Capitol Alert

Why a California lawmaker wants to ban Walmart gift cards at gun buyback events

In this Dec. 27, 2012 file photo, a variety of military-style semi-automatic rifles obtained during a buyback program are displayed at Los Angeles police headquarters.
In this Dec. 27, 2012 file photo, a variety of military-style semi-automatic rifles obtained during a buyback program are displayed at Los Angeles police headquarters. Associated Press file

Participants in gun buyback events that aim to get weapons off the street often receive gift cards for turning in their firearms, but some of those gift cards come from businesses that sell guns themselves.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, wants to stop that practice, calling it “counterproductive.”

Assembly Bill 1903, which Gonzalez Fletcher introduced in January, would prohibit public agencies that run gun buyback events from giving out gift cards to businesses that sell guns or ammunition. Gun buyback events are often billed as a chance for people to turn in weapons with no questions asked, and the collected guns are usually destroyed.

The Assembly Committee on Public Safety will consider the bill at a hearing today at 9 a.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol.

“If we take one gun off the street, then that’s good, but the last thing we want to do is push people towards retailers that sell guns,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Gonzalez Fletcher said she was disturbed after hearing about a December gun buyback event in San Diego that featured police officers giving away $25,000-worth of Walmart gift cards to those who turned in handguns, rifles and assault rifles.

Although its stores in California no longer sell guns, Walmart is the largest ammunition retailer in the state, Gonzalez Fletcher said.

“If we’re not sure what the people are doing with the money, then perhaps we should not promote guns and ammunition,” she said. “That probably isn’t the best use of public funds.”

AB 1903 is part of a flurry of gun-related bills that California lawmakers are pushing in light of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Walmart, which halted its sales of assault-style weapons in 2015, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kroger and L.L. Bean all announced last week they would not sell guns to buyers younger than 21.

Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition, a Sacramento-based gun rights organization, said Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill misses the bigger picture about gun buyback programs and does not improve public safety.

“Why are these gun buybacks allowed to exist in the first place?” Combs asked. “All they do is pay people and criminals to get rid of weapons.”

Combs said the buyback events allow violent criminals to receive money after turning in weapons they may have illegally obtained or used in serious crimes with no questions asked. To help solve crimes, Combs said AB 1903 should be amended to require law enforcement agencies to record and retain information about both the individuals who turn in guns and the guns themselves.

Gonzalez Fletcher said she has her own concerns about the effectiveness of gun buyback programs but that as long as they exist, they should not help people buy more guns.

“It’s just a common-sense measure,” she said.

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