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SAN DIEGO — Offering gift cards, San Diego police asked residents to voluntarily hand over unwanted guns at a buyback event Saturday morning.

The program, held at the San Diego Police Department offices on Murphy Canyon Road from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., drew a line of cars, with residents pulling up one-by-one with an unloaded, functioning weapon in their trunk. Officers stepped up to remove the guns, and handed back cards worth $100 for handguns and $200 for firearms they classified as assault rifles.

Two hours after the event started, police said they had already collected around 200 guns. Officials called Saturday’s event the most successful gun buyback in the county’s history. 

“We have already surpassed the original $20,000 that were raised within two hours,” councilmember Raul Campillo said.

The effort is one in a series of buybacks organized by the department and other local agencies in hopes of keeping weapons from falling into the wrong hands. San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit told FOX 5 that one key way that happens is through burglaries where thieves make off with guns. If the owner doesn’t want the weapon anymore, it’s safest to turn over to authorities and have it destroyed, the chief said.

Buyback events have helped SDPD take hundreds of guns off the streets this year, according to the department. The events are “no questions asked,” but police say in most cases the surrendered weapons “no longer serve a recreational, sentimental or self-defense purpose,” so owners would just as well save on storage and take the funds.

SDPD Capt. Mike Holden said they find firearms that are not wanted by the residents and may not be properly secured.

“So those are easily stolen and those stolen firearms can end up on the street,” Holden said.

Saturday’s event came in the wake of the tragic slaying of a 16-year-old boy near the Meadowbrook Apartments in Bay Terraces this week and other recent violence.

The city also just voted to criminalize the possession of “ghost guns” — firearms built from individual parts or kits found online that lack a traceable serial number. That ban takes effect Oct. 23.

In 2020, San Diego saw a 169% increase in the number of ghost guns retrieved and impounded compared to the previous year. This year, San Diego has already surpassed the number of ghost guns impounded in all of 2019 and 2020, with the expected number of ghost guns recovered by SDPD to double by the end of this year.

“A gun in the home makes it like 22% more likely that you’re going to get shot with it,” said Carol Landale, executive director for San Diego for Gun Violence Prevention.

In total, 418 firearms were handed over.

City News Service contributed to this report.