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Gun turn-in pits Ceasefire against collectors with cash

Police gather up fewer weapons at weekend event at coliseum
by: peter Korn Portland Police Sgt. Tim Sessions displays some of the 43 guns turned in Saturday at a Ceasefire Oregon event aimed at removing weapons from the street.

Only 43 people turned in unwanted guns Saturday at Ceasefire Oregon's latest community collection event, in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum parking lot.

Last winter, Portland police collected 152 guns at a similar event, and earlier turn-ins yielded even more.

Event organizers and Portland police, who help coordinate the turn-in, were at a loss to explain the drop. Maybe, they said, publicity for the event did not reach as many people.

Among those it did reach were about two dozen gun collectors who lined up at the parking lot's two entrances, hoping to convince people driving in to sell them their guns rather than hand them over to police for destruction. Each gun turned in to police earned a $50 Fred Meyer gift certificate.

The gun collectors waved signs at cars approaching the lot, reading: 'I buy guns, $50-$200 cash.'

By the end of the day, the collectors said they had managed to buy 10 to 15 guns that otherwise would have been turned in and destroyed.

Whether the collectors were there for the opportunity to buy undervalued firearms or as a Second Amendment protest was hard to discern.

'We're here trying to save decent guns,' said Bob Galloway, a gun collector who drove from Eugene for the event. Galloway said he owns 50 guns but never shoots them.

Jim Clark, also a Eugene collector, said he had another reason for hoping to persuade people to sell their turn-in guns to him. 'They're potentially destroying guns that may have been used in crimes,' Clark said. 'A criminal could bring a gun here that was used in a crime and it would be destroyed.'

At the parking lot's other entrance, Southeast Portland resident Dave Nelson displayed the rifle and a shotgun he had bought during the day's events. The rifle, he said, was worth about $150, and he bought it for $100.

Nelson, a Boy Scout leader, had found a useful marketing ploy; he was waving hundred dollar bills at cars approaching the parking lot. He said he would use the rifle to teach his scouts to shoot.

'We're not talking gangsta guns here,' Nelson said. 'Mostly I'm looking for a bargain, but I don't like the idea of destroying perfectly good guns.'

A change of heart

A number of police officers assisting with the turn-in event said they had no problem with gun collectors persuading gun owners not to hand over their guns for destruction.

Sgt. Tim Sessions said guns that end up in the hands of criminals typically are stolen from homes where they were not locked up.

'They know how to lock guns up,' Sessions said of the nearby collectors.

Typical of those who were bringing in guns was Vancouver, Wash., resident Barbara Luisi, who said her gun collector ex-husband had given her a rifle 20 years ago and it had been in her garage for years.

'I don't want somebody to break into our house and take it (and) use it to kill somebody,' Luisi said.

Portland police Officer Rob Blanck, who was among those assigned to the event, said the day produced a few interesting items, including one man who turned in a semi-automatic pistol that had been modified into an illegal fully automatic weapon. Another man turned in a new Glock pistol, just like those used by police, in its original box. Blanck estimated the gun must have cost its owner $500.

'He told me he just had a change of heart regarding guns,' Blanck said.

That item didn't quite match the World War I Springfield rifle that had been turned in at a previous Ceasefire Oregon event.

Blanck said he convinced the owner to take that rifle to a military museum in Fort Lewis, Wash., rather than have it destroyed.

'It was in absolute stunning shape,' Blanck said, of the antique.

Mary Tompkins, Ceasefire Oregon executive director, said the novelty of the gun turn-in may have worn off after five years but that better publicity might help bring more reluctant gun owners to future events.

Liz Julee, a Ceasefire Oregon Educational Foundation board member, looked at the men and women at the parking lot entrances and refused to accept that they were there only to add to their gun collections.

'I think it's political,' Julee said. 'I think it's unfortunate that they feel they need to have an oppositional presence.'