Organizers at the Alamodome parking lot in San Antonio ran out of grocery store gift cards hours before expected on Sunday as area residents traded in more than 850 guns to be destroyed.
“It’s more than we thought, but not more than we had hoped for,” said Councilman John Courage (D9), who contributed $100,000 of his office’s discretionary funds toward San Antonio’s first large-scale, public gun exchange. Local congregation and individual donations allowed volunteers to distribute nearly $150,000 in H-E-B gift cards.
Vehicles started snaking around the Alamodome’s two large parking lots at 10 a.m. for the buyback, which was scheduled from noon to 5 p.m. Most people waited in line for two hours or more and entry was closed around 1 p.m. as it became clear the demand for the gift cards outpaced supply.
“I think this demonstrates the desire for people in our community to continue to make themselves safe in their home,” Courage said. “We’ve had too much gun violence and that gun violence has taken place inside the home almost as much, if not more, than outside the home.”
Nearly 40 police officers on overtime oversaw the event, City Manager Erik Walsh said, including members of the San Antonio Police Department’s academy staff, patrol, gun, SWAT and bomb units.
“Obviously, we’re gonna want to do this again,” Walsh said. After the Thanksgiving holiday, city leadership plans on “sitting down and doing an after-action [meeting] on what worked, what didn’t.”
Most of the guns were long rifles, primarily used for hunting. But two SAPD officials said at least one fully automatic Uzi and several other powerful firearms were collected.
A cane gun, which looked like a walking cane but featured a trigger action and barrel through the length, also was dropped off.
“There’s a lot of very unique items that we’ve come across — a lot of different action types that we have to almost figure out in the moment how to unload and clear just to make sure they’re safe,” Boortz said. “Some of them are very tricky.”
A few guns barely fit the definition of a firearm, but even nonfunctioning weapons were worth a $50 gift card.
“This was made to get $50 bucks,” an officer said before tossing a confusing hunk of plastic and metal into a trunk of rifles.
Jerry Beverly brought in two shotguns, a .22 caliber rifle and an Arisaka rifle, a Japanese war relic. Most of the guns had been largely unused since Beverly inherited them from his father.
“I haven’t gone dove hunting in 40 years, I think,” he said.
Beverly hopes the event as a whole will reduce gun violence in San Antonio.
“‘I’m a real believer in trying to stifle all of this violence going on with guns,” he said. “It’s a shame because, for hunting and things like that, [guns] are just fantastic. But people are using them for the wrong reasons and I guess have a fear that one day somebody’s going to get ahold of those things and I’d just as well get rid of them now.”
The line may have been shortened slightly by private buyers offering cash for guns to people as they waited in line.
The San Antonio Report did not observe any transactions on the street, but several gun buyers said they had purchased several guns from people waiting in line, which is allowed by Texas law.
CJ Grisham, a Temple-based civil rights attorney, said he purchased three shotguns and two .38 Special revolvers. He said he’s been to gun exchange events all over Texas.
“They never have enough gift cards for these things,” Grisham said.
Generally, he purchased guns for the same amount the person would have received via gift card, he said. “Instead of an H-E-B gift card, here’s cash you can spend anywhere.”
He purchases only functioning weapons, Grisham said, and as a military veteran, he “knows what to look for.” Meanwhile, taxpayer dollars — at least some of the $100,000 from the District 9 office — are paying for nonfunctioning weapons.
They’re using “taxpayer money to pay for a piece of trash that nobody can use [and] that’s … not gonna hurt anybody,” he said. “That doesn’t sit right with me.”
Maximino Nevarez chose to wait in line for two hours rather than sell to several people who approached him with cash.
“You just never know,” Nevarez said, adding that he didn’t want his guns used for harm. “If they do something with the gun, that could come back to me.”
Each gun swapped for a gift card was checked for a serial number to see if it had been reported stolen. When a possibly stolen gun was identified or if the serial number was missing, the police collected that person’s information.
As of 1 p.m., no arrests were made and there were no incidents reported, SAPD Chief William McManus said.
Operable guns will undergo forensic testing and be checked for involvement in crimes, McManus said. All guns will ultimately be destroyed, including those unclaimed by owners.
Courage has said he wants an art installation built with the remnants of the guns, but it’s unclear how or if that might happen.
“But this certainly does not hurt anything,” McManus said. “Put aside what the studies show. … I think that this is probably good for the community. I mean, look at all the people that are showing up.”
Once they received their gift cards, people stopped by a tent to receive information about mental health resources from the city’s health department and another tent to get a free gun lock and gun safety information from the local chapter of Moms Demand Action, a national gun safety advocacy organization.
“Having a gun in your nightstand is not secure; hiding it in your closet is not secure,” said Angie Jehn, co-lead for the volunteer effort in Bexar County.
The nonprofit is promoting its Be SMART initiative, which educates parents on best practices for responsible gun ownership and the importance of mental health awareness.
“Six out of every 10 gun deaths are suicide,” Jenn said. “And so we talk about recognizing the signs of someone who might have suicidal ideation or even homicidal discussions to be able to recognize that.”
As a part of a local initiative, Vidas Robadas, or Stolen Lives, T-shirts were hung along the Alamodome’s fence featuring the names of people killed by guns in Bexar County, how old they were and the date they were killed.
“We must not forget them; we must say their names,” Pastor Rob Mueller of Divine Redeemer Church, a COPS/Metro Alliance organizer, said in a news release. “Ya basta con la violencia … Enough is enough.”