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Wednesday, September 9, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gun Buyback Out Of Cash Again

Seattle's gun buyback program is off again today, having run out of money for the second time.

Expected to run nearly two weeks, the program instead used up about $60,000 in barely four days of operation and had to stop the buying this morning.

"We have enough for probably about 20 more vouchers," at $50 each, said James Kelly, president of Stop The Violence, the group sponsoring the buyback.

At the rate guns were being brought in, that was barely enough money to last an hour, leading to the official decision late this morning to announce the project was over.

However, if another substantial donation was received - like the $35,000 received over the weekend - it's possible the effort could be restarted, said a staff member at Stop The Violence.

Started on Sept. 1, the buyback took handguns and modified shotguns and rifles off the streets by giving donors a voucher redeemable for $50. The weapons were turned in at the four Seattle Police Department Precincts.

After first running out of money last week, the project resumed yesterday and ran little more than a day before the money was used up again. Altogether, about 1,200 weapons were turned in nearly as fast as they could be processed.

Kelly said more funding from corporations or other large donations had been sought, and some did come through, including a $1,000 donation from Mr. and Mrs. Phil Smart, operators of a Mercedes dealership on Capitol Hill, but the money wasn't enough to officially keep the program going through the planned Sept. 15 ending.

In yesterday's collections, a wide variety of weapons were turned in, including several sawed-off shotguns, such as a Mossberg 12-gauge with a cut-off stock and a shortened barrel turned in at the East Precinct.

It was an ugly, frightening, illegal weapon.

"That's exactly what we want," said Kelly. "There's no other reason to have such a weapon except to harm someone."

About 600 such handguns and other weapons were turned in yesterday as the buyback resumed after a four-day lapse.

"I certainly slept well for the first time last night knowing we'd collected over 1,000 guns that can no longer be accessed by children," Kelly said.

The weapons are to be melted down and cast into a statue of the international symbol for "NO" - a circle with a diagonal slash through it - superimposed over a weapon, said Kelly. A committee is being formed to decide on a location.

At the South Precinct yesterday, lines of people waited to turn in weapons. At the North Precinct, cars circled through the parking lot as people waited to park so they could get inside to surrender guns. A tiny West Precinct waiting room on the third floor of the Public Safety Building in downtown Seattle also was filled with people. And at the East Precinct at 12th Avenue and East Pine Street, a steady line of people filed through the foyer all morning.

"We did 25 in one hour," said Officer Michele Mollendort at the East Precinct as she tried to help Officer R.S. Zuray find the serial number on a revolver.

Kelly said yesterday he was both elated and saddened at the number of weapons being surrendered.

The elation came from the realization that hundreds of guns that could possibly hurt or kill people were being removed from the streets; sadness came from the realization that available money quickly would be exhausted, while thousands of other weapons remained accessible to children or criminals.

For the most part, the weapons were provided with little conversation - no questions are asked of the people bringing them in - and the stories behind the guns remained unknown.

But there were exceptions to that - Kelly said that one sad moment came when a family turned in the handgun their daughter had used to commit suicide.

Others also opened up about the weapons they were turning in.

A retired Seattle police officer said he received the Smith & Wesson pistol he was carrying from friends in a recreational-vehicle club. A member's husband had carried it with him, he said, but then developed Alzheimer's disease and died. His widow had given it to him three years ago to dispose of, and he finally was doing it.

Another man had a sawed-off J.C. Higgins shotgun that his father had left at his home on a visit. His dad, he said, is now 57 and had received the shotgun on his 16th birthday. Four years ago, he cut off the stock and barrel. His son didn't know why.

"Maybe he was going through a dangerous period," he said.

And a woman who said she was 83 and gave her name as Betty could barely reach the counter to push a silver-plated Smith & Wesson over to a police officer at the North Precinct. "I saw that gun shot once," she said. "It was 1916, down near Olympia. My dad was a logger and they were trying to steal his equipment and he fired it up in the air."

She'd kept the pistol ever since.

"It's a nice gun," she said. "I hate to part with it, but $50 looks pretty good."

The buyback was modeled after one in St. Louis, where more than 7,000 weapons were collected.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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