N.Y.'s Guns-for-Toys Swap Catches Imaginations - And Rifles, Magnums, .22s
A FRIEND wanted to borrow 13-year-old BAM's .32 caliber gun to rob a store.
``I would have felt guilty if that had happened, and someone got killed,'' said BAM, using his street name.
So instead, BAM and his friend ``MacGyver'' walked two miles through the snow to exchange the gun for a $100 gift certificate at Foot Locker and $75 in cash from the city.
``I want some Timberland boots,'' he says.
Now into its 10th day, ``Operation Toys for Guns'' has helped to focus the Big Apple's attention on the estimated 1 million guns in the city. (Handgun poll, Page 2.)
As of Wednesday morning, 479 firearms had been turned in at the precinct, located in a part of Upper Manhattan frequented by drug buyers and sellers. The turnover has increased, as news of the program spread and gun owners have watched news reports verifying that police don't ask questions about the guns. ``We're averaging about 100 guns a day,'' says Capt. Terrence Monahan, executive officer of the precinct.
At a recent press conferences, police had on display the arsenal that is taken away at the end of each day to be melted down. The guns, the police say, are coming from as far away as Pennsylvania.
The daily weapons stash is at least 50 percent hunting rifles. But there are also sawed-off shotguns, semiautomatic weapons, .357 magnums, and .22s small enough to slip into a purse. ``A lot of the weapons are the family gun,'' explains Captain Monahan, who says many of the first people to turn in guns were well-dressed women.
``People see the rash of 13- and 14-year-olds getting killed, and they want to turn in their guns,'' he says.
Indeed, BAM's case shows how easy it is for teens to get guns. BAM says a friend of his with ``lots of guns'' gave him the .32 as a gift.
About a dozen people are sitting in the precinct waiting for their gift certificates. One man who brought in a .22 says: ``I just wanted to get rid of it.'' The cash and gift certificate were the enticement. A young man named Sal, who lives in the neighborhood, says he brought in a friend's .38 just to get the gun off the streets because ``it's my generation that is dying.'' Another man brought a broken rifle - he expected to make a profit from the exchange.
While no one expects the program to make the streets gun-free, it has captured the imagination of the city, which is now planning to expand it to other boroughs. The current program has been extended to Jan. 6 but may go longer. Businesses are starting to donate money in $25,000 quantities for the gift certificates.
The project also shows that people can make a difference. It is the concept of Fernando Mateo, the president of Carpet Fashions carpet store in the city, who thought it would be a fitting way to celebrate Christmas by getting guns off the streets. He donated $5,000 and enlisted the aid of a local politician and the Toys `R' Us toy store, which donated $10,000. The city twinned it with its own gun-buyback program, which took 3,000 guns off the streets last year.
Take the A train south from the precinct to Times Square, and you find a different approach to the violent-crime problem. Antigun advocates have erected a 3 1/2 story Deathclock that will start ticking at 1 a.m. Jan. 1. The clock will inform the 20 million tourists who gawk at the signs each year and the 1.7 million New Yorkers who pass through the zone daily how many people have been killed by guns in 1994.
``The clock is telling us it is time to get the illegal guns off the streets of America,'' says Robert Brennan, the founder of First Jersey Securities, which was shut down by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Brennan, through the Dehere Foundation, is spending more than $540,000 for the Times Square clock. He intends to erect similar clocks in Los Angeles; Miami; Newark, N.J.; and other cities with high violent-crime rates.
In Times Square, tourists waiting for discount Broadway tickets seemed to think the idea was a good one.
``Something's got [to] be done,'' says Ron Cipriano, a resident of Minneapolis.
And, Steve Graciano, a freshman at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y, says: ``It might open up a lot of eyes.'' He should know - he grew up in the same neighborhood as the 34th precinct where guns are now exchanged for toys.