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N.Y.C. Toys-for-Guns Plan: Will It Play in Los Angeles?

AFTER collecting more than 1,000 firearms in a successful goods-for-guns program, a New York businessman was taking his trade-in campaign to gang-ridden Los Angeles on Jan. 3.

But crime experts doubted that the plan would have any effect on street violence, saying enthusiasm for the plan in New York was more a symbol of rising sentiment against guns than a rush to disarm.

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Fernando Mateo, president of a carpet company who has spearheaded the plan, said he was flying to Los Angeles to meet with community leaders and ``people working with gangs'' in a first step toward expanding the swap program beyond New York.

``It's going beserk,'' Mr. Mateo says. ``We thought it would slow down, but it keeps growing and growing.''

In upper Manhattan's high-crime neighborhood of Washington Heights, guns are being exchanged for $100 coupons, no questions asked.

The gift certificates were originally good at Toys `R' Us stores when the plan started Dec. 23. They are now valid for purchases of shoes, mattresses, and gasoline at other businesses.

The guns, including everything from hunting rifles to a submachine gun, will be melted down to make artificial Christmas trees, among other things, Mateo says.

Though it has succeeded beyond expectations, the head of a citizens' anticrime group says the program was small in comparison to the city's crime problem.

``They're not the kinds of guns being used in the streets, not the commando weapons that drug gangs like,'' says Thomas Reppetto, head of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York