ORLANDO – Noel Beary-Rauch picked up a shotgun, noted that the barrel had been sawed off, and pointed out one important thing about this weapon: it’s a crime to own it, or use it.
“It’s a very illegal pistol grip shotgun,” she said. “The barrel has to be a certain length, which this one isn’t.”
On Friday morning, someone turned that gun over to Beary-Rauch, who is the master deputy and special projects coordinator for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. But while owning a sawed off shotgun is illegal, the owner was able to turn it in without any legal repercussions.
“This is ‘No questions asked,’ “ Beary-Rauch said.
On Friday, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office hosted a Gift Card for Guns program, which encouraged citizens to bring in unwanted guns. The sheriff’s office believes this program can help reduce the chance of guns falling into the wrong hands. In return, those who trade in their guns got a $50 gift card to Wal-Mart.
By late morning, quite a few people had taken advantage of the opportunity, and the sheriff’s office had collected a large number of weapons from their location at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.
“This is our 13th annual event,” Beary-Rauch said. “It’s been awesome. So far today we’ve had a wide variety of people come here.”
And the sheriff’s office collected a wide variety of weapons as well.
“One of the significant weapons we got was a sporter semi-automatic rifle,” Beary-Rauch said. “It’s a Russian-style weapon” – and, as with the pistol grip shotgun, one not used by hunters as much as criminals, she said.
“We’re getting a lot of handguns – a lot of what we call Saturday Night Specials,” she said. “The nickname for them is a Throw Down gun.”
Although some of these guns could be considered historic and valuable – including one weapon that was a World War II-era handgun with Japanese handwriting on it — Beary-Rauch said they’re often owned by people who never wanted a gun and don’t plan to use one, and in fact don’t even feel comfortable having it in their house.
“A lot of the people have acquired weapons from family members,” she said. “Some people are so terrified of them that they turn them in. They don’t want them to get stolen or used against them.”
As it turns out, at least eight of the guns brought to the Central Florida Fairgrounds had been reported stolen, according to a quick check by the sheriff’s office – including weapons stolen from the Sanford and Leesburg police departments, she added.
Other weapons collected on Friday are considered dangerous, including a Kel Tec 223 sub-machine gun, a weapon Beary-Rauch said she’s glad is off the streets.
What comes next for these weapons?
“They will be destroyed,” she said. “This is going to save the lives of people in the community, and save the lives of law enforcement.”
Those who came to the fairgrounds with a gun to hand over got a $50 gift card, unless they were turning in a BB gun or pellet air gun, which entitled them to a $10 gift card.
Although the sheriff’s office has offered different incentives in the past – including a gas card for anyone who showed up with a gun – this year, in light of the economy, they decided to go with a gift card to a major retailer.
“Wal-Mart seems to go a lot further for people,” she said.
Captain Angelo Nieves, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, said they collected an impressive number of weapons this year. The program is held every August, just before school re-opens.
“You have the whole gamut here,” he said, as he walked past a table lined with weapons.
“I’m glad that this community is responding to this effort,” he said. “Some of these firearms are old, but they know they’ll never use them. They want to avoid having it fall into the wrong hands. And we’re accomplishing what we want. We’re getting these weapons off the street – the more, the better.”
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