459 firearms collected at Manatee sheriff's office buyback

ejohnson@bradenton.comMarch 10, 2013 

MANATEE -- John Bird handed over the first gun he ever owned, walking away with a crisp $100 bill.

"I got it as a Christmas present when I was 8 years old," Bird said of the 12-gauge shotgun wrapped in a towel. "My father taught me to hunt. But I haven't used it in 20 years, and I have nicer guns from my father and grandfather, so it seemed like a good time to get rid of it."

Bird's shotgun was one of 459 firearms turned in at the Manatee County Sheriff's Office gun buyback program. In exchange for working firearms, the sheriff's office gave out cash -- seized drug money taken from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund. People received $50 for handguns, $100 for shotguns or rifles and $150 for assault weapons.

"Our goal is to get as many unwanted guns off the streets that we can, so these guns don't find their ways into the hands of criminals," said Sheriff Brad Steube, who stopped in about 2 p.m. "I definitely think we're going to beat 400."

That's the number of firearms collected at the sheriff's last buyback in 2009 where they ran out of cash and

had to issue IOUs. That wasn't an issue Saturday with comptroller Tom Salisbury on hand to take care of the money exchanges.

Approximately $37,950 was given in exchange for the 459 guns, including five assault weapons, during the eight-hour buyback.

"It's been a steady stream all day," said Capt. Violet Duey, adding that people formed a long line at the Crime Prevention office before 10 a.m.

"It's predominately guns people have had in the family for years that they don't use and no longer want the responsibility of having a weapon in the home. They can bring them in for cash and ensure the weapons aren't stolen in a burglary and come into the wrong hands."

Guns were checked at the door and unloaded if necessary. Inside, the firearms were inventoried by make, model and serial number. No questions were asked of people turning in the guns.

"We will check to see if any were reported stolen, and if so, those cases will be cleared," Duey said.

A table inside the office was piled with handguns. Small boxes were filled with ammunition. A large bin overflowed with rifles and shotguns. A few assault weapons laid on another table. All of the items will be destroyed.

Duey said one of the more interesting stories of the day was that of a man who found a small handgun in a coffee tin buried in his deceased mother's back yard.

"It was, surprisingly, in good shape," she said.

A widow and her friend turned in some guns her husband left in a closet. She cried when she received cash for the weapons. Deputies advised her to sell one of the guns, a Smith & Wesson, because it was worth more than the $50 offer.

"At least they tell you. That's important when you don't know the difference in a BB gun or a cap gun," the friend said.

One man turned over 12 weapons, the most for any individual Saturday.

Deputies were took a close look at a 1920 four-shot handgun, something they had never seen in person.

"I inherited it from my uncle," said the man who brought it in. "I forgot about it until I found it while cleaning out the garage."

Another man turned in three handguns and a rifle belonging to an 89-year-old widow.

"It will be peace of mind for her to get them out of the house," he said.

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.

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