This holiday exchange was a far cry from the typical cookie or white elephant gift swap.
Instead, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department swapped guns for gift cards Saturday outside the Mira Costa Community College in Cardiff.
People turned over 899 handguns, shotguns, rifles and one live hand grenade in exchange for Wal-Mart gift cards, no questions asked. Handguns earned $100 each, while long guns were handed in for $150 gift cards.
For Dep. James Steinmeyer, the event holds personal significance. On Feb. 20 of this year, he was shot in the head as he tried to arrest a man suspected of stealing a vehicle.
That suspect had gotten the gun illegally.
“I think that is an event in my life that makes this relevant,” said Steinmeyer. “Like I mentioned -- the gun being illegally obtained -- any time there’s a gun in a household where they don’t know what to do with it, they don’t really want it around, there’s a potential that that could fall into the wrong hands, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent here today.”
Steinmeyer said he still has several birdshot pellets lodged in his head, and his partner, Dep. Colin Snodgrass, is still recovering from buckshot wounds to his knee from the same shooting.
Gun owner Joyce Saria came to the event because she felt uncomfortable keeping an unneeded gun around her home.
“I don’t know how to use the gun, so that’s why it’s better for us to just give it away and have a peace of mind that I don’t have anything in my house,” said Saria.
The sheriff’s department paid for $15,000 worth of gift cards through asset forfeiture funds, and the San Diego District Attorney’s Office donated $5,000 in forfeiture funds to the cause as well.
All the collected firearms will now be destroyed.
Lt. Mario Zermeno with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department said the gun buyback attracted roughly three times more gun owners than they expected.
If any gun owners missed the event Saturday but still want to get rid of their firearms, Zermeno said they can always turn them into any sheriff’s station or police department during business hours. However, they will not receive a gift card.
The sheriff's department partnered with the Carlsbad, Oceanside and San Diego police departments to host the event.
The last sheriff’s gun buyback was held last May in San Marcos. There, people turned in 208 guns, including two assault-style rifles and a military smoke grenade. Two of the firearms had been stolen, and the sheriff’s department handed them over to the appropriate agency.