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City buy-back program takes 5,500 guns, replicas off streets

Evidence tags are attached guns handed over gun turn event St. SabinChurch 1210 W. 78th Pl. Saturday June 23 2012

Evidence tags are attached to guns handed over at a gun turn in event at St. Sabina Church, 1210 W. 78th Pl., Saturday, June 23, 2012, in Chicago. About 25 locations throughout the city accepted guns, rifles, replica or BB-guns in exchange for gift cards. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 25, 2012 6:53AM



Some of the guns turned in at St. Sabina Church on the South Side on Saturday came wrapped in blankets or packed in backpacks. Other, tinier handguns were taken out of designer purses and shoe boxes and turned over.

Jean Jones, 64, unwrapped her handgun delicately from a towel she pulled out of a large brown purse. It was her late husband’s weapon, and she had never handled it before.

“That’s a killer right there. That small gun,” said Chicago Police Sgt. Kevin Johnson, a member of the citywide Anti-Gun Enforcement Team. “It’s a North American Arms .22 caliber,” Johnson said. “That bullet is so small it will bounce. It will travel and you’ll have internal bleeding going throughout your body.”

The gun was one of more than 5,500 weapons — including several large, military-grade machine guns — replicas and BB guns turned in at the city’s annual gun buy-back program. Those handing over working weapons were given a $100 MasterCard gift card, while those who brought in replica or BB guns received $10 gift cards.

There were so many firearms turned in that police ran out of gift cards and said some people would have to come back next week to collect.

While officials were pleased with the number of weapons turned in, the total didn’t surpass 2007, when a record-breaking 6,700 guns were brought in to nearly two dozen churches.

Jones was shocked to learn how dangerous the tiny weapon she brought in was.

She kept it in the back of a closet in her home. But she has two grandchildren, and she’s glad to have it out of the house.

“I never knew how to use that. Oh my God the safety didn’t even work,” Jones said. “I would have never used that.”

Jones winced as Officer Sean Hayes, an instructor at the Chicago Police Academy, tried to unlodge bullets from the gun. The .22 caliber bullets were jammed inside. He even tried using a hammer to remove them, but couldn’t.

As is general practice, no questions were asked about the guns, and those who brought them could remain anonymous. All of the weapons will be destroyed.

Many of the weapons were older. Some bullets brought in were in a decades-old pharmacy bottle. Another gun was an antique, made in 1927 and possibly worth a lot of money.

At a media conference Saturday night, Supt. Garry McCarthy noted that an older weapon was used to shoot an officer who was chasing a suspect in March on the South Side. Paris Sadler, 20, has been charged with attempted murder in the shooting of Officer Del Pearson, 47, who survived the attack.

“The gun that shot our officer Del Pearson a couple of months ago . . . was bought in 1972 by a 52-year-old woman who died in 2006 in Little Rock, Ark.,” McCarthy said.

“ . . . People criticize, sometimes, these events. They say we don’t get the right guns off the street, but the likelihood of these guns being turned in by somebody’s parent is much greater than being turned in by one of the gang-bangers.”

At St. Sabina earlier, Johnson agreed that the buy-back “is keeping guns from being used in crimes. And with the level of violence out there, I’m really glad the city and the department are doing this.”

At a similar gun turn-in program at the Heritage International Christian Church in Austin, a sign warned people to “be prepared to wait” and to not leave the church with a weapon.

A man and a woman drove in from Kane County to that event and waited in line for an hour and a half. They said they were happy to get rid of three guns: “There’s no use in having those guns in my home,” said the man, who asked not to be identified. “If I can make it a little bit safer, well, then by all means, I will.”

Contributing: Lauren FitzPatrick



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