Police collect unwanted guns for Walmart gift cards

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The Clearwater Police Department offered residents a chance to trade unwanted guns for Walmart gift cards on Saturday. A total of 450 weapons were collected, and $37,000 in gift cards was handed out.

The gun buyback was held at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex, at the corner of Drew Street and Old Coachman Road, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Handguns were exchanged for a $50 Walmart gift cards, while long rifles were traded for $100 Walmart gift cards.

"I've got an old 16 gauge shot gun. I'm not sure if I want to trust firing it myself, so it's kind of a danger to have around," said Ralph Estes, as he sat in his car waiting to turn in his old gun. "I can use a gift card to get [my] new grandbaby a Christmas gift."

No questions were asked of those who stopped by to exchange weapons. In the first hour, 85 guns were collected. The amount increased to 129 guns just 30 minutes later.

"We have noticed, in the last year or so, a lot of gun burglaries," said Rob Shaw, spokesperson for the Clearwater Police Department, "Somebody breaks into a house, they break into a car, what's the first thing they look for? A gun…an unsecured weapon."

Police checked the serial number of each gun traded on Saturday. If any weapons were reported as stolen, they plan to contact the owner.

Police said by turning in unwanted guns, residents can help them decrease local gun violence.

"We had a homicide, unfortunately, earlier this year where a gun had been stolen out of a car in [Pinellas County] Sheriff's Office territory, and that gun was used in the homicide… If that owner didn't have the gun, or if it had been properly secured, then that person might be alive today," said Shaw.

A group of local gun collectors set up shop across the street from the buyback event, hoping to encourage residents to sell their guns for cash, rather than trade them in to be destroyed.

"I think for some of it, they use a bit of scare tactics to make people feel like this is the only way they can legally and responsibly get rid of their guns," said Sean Ryle, a gun collector. "There are plenty of people out here that are responsible gun owners, responsible gun collectors," added Ryle.

BB guns and pellet guns were accepted, but were not eligible for gift cards. Police also collected a few homemade guns, crafted with wood and duct tape, and a potato gun, neither of which was eligible for a gift card.

Every weapon collected will be handed over to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and destroyed.