Thousands of people lined up on Wednesday in Los Angeles to take part in a guns-for-groceries exchange program that was called in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting.
Spurned by the tragic Dec. 14 killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a number of cities have joined this growing trend, scheduling similar programs with an uptick of support from resident gun-owners.
Gun exchanges have become popular in recent years in cities including Detroit, Boston and Camden, NJ. Last week, at San Diego's annual buyback, law enforcement officials announced additional exchanges within six months.
On Wednesday, the upstate college community of Ithaca, NY announced the installment of a new cash-for-guns program there. “The goal of the program is to remove unwanted guns from our community before they fall into the hands of those that may do harm,” said the Ithaca Police Department in a Christmas Day statement.
Los Angeles's anonymous buyback program allowed weapons to be turned in with no questions asked in exchange for grocery store gift cards worth up to $100 for handguns, shotguns and rifles, and up to $200 for assault weapons.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa scheduled Wednesday's event in addition to the city's annual gun exchange, typically held on Mother's Day.
By Wednesday afternoon, police had already amassed more than the 1,673 guns collected last year, and officials were scrambling to get more gift cards, which were donated by Ralphs grocery stores, the Los Angeles Times reports.
"They're doing this because they want to make a difference," Villaraigosa said, of those turning in guns.
According to the LA Times, "many came bearing more than one gun. They pulled 22 pistols from the trunk of one white Honda, a haul that earned the driver $1,000."
Organizers credited collective outrage for the turnout though many were motivated by the promise of free groceries during the belt-tightening holiday season.
"If I could get $100 of free groceries, it's worth it," Charles Edwards told the LA Times while waiting in line next to drop off his old .22 revolver. "I wouldn't do it for $40. That's why people are here. They feel bad about all that's happening, but times are tough."
Sandra Lefall said that she came to the site with Newtown in mind, "I'm bringing in a 9-millimeter handgun because I want to get it out of the house because I have teenage children. I would hate for them to do what that guy in Connecticut did."
According to officials, most of the weapons recovered were "mom and pop guns"—hunting rifles, shotguns—but they collected a few dozen assault weapons as well.
Villaraigosa said in a news conference that the buyback program had taken in 8,000 guns since it began in 2009 and was just one part of a comprehensive police strategy that has reduced violent crime in recent years.
He has also called for federal legislation to ban the sale of high-capacity magazines and said the nation needs universal background checks for gun buyers and a comprehensive list of the mentally ill, the Daily News reports.