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Camden gun buyback program nets hundreds of weapons

Authorities collected 374 weapons and doled out $50,325 Friday in the first day of a cash-for-guns program in Camden.

Authorities collected 374 weapons and doled out $50,325 Friday in the first day of a cash-for-guns program in Camden.

"It's a great chance to get these weapons off the streets," New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said during a visit to the Higher Ground Temple Church of God in Christ in North Camden, where more than 70 weapons had been turned in by early afternoon.

The two-day program will continue from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at Antioch Baptist Church at Seventh Street and Ferry Avenue, and at Higher Ground on Vine Street.

A final tally of weapons will be made public Tuesday.

Those turned in Friday included revolvers, automatic pistols, and rifles, plus a black-powder dueling pistol. Antioch took in 293 of the weapons, and Higher Ground 81.

At Higher Ground, rifles and handguns were separated in recycling bins.

"Mayor, putting the recycling bins to good use here," said Police Chief Scott Thomson, who accompanied Chiesa and Mayor Dana L. Redd.

Residents could bring in up to three firearms, no questions asked. Payment was set on a sliding scale, with the $250 maximum going for operable assault weapons. Payments began at $25 for weapons such as BB guns.

The $100,000 set aside for the program came from the state Attorney General's Office and was forfeited in investigations involving drug dealers and other offenders, officials said.

Program organizers expected the payout this year to be more attractive to gun owners than during a similar drive in 2011, when the city offered a $100 Pathmark supermarket voucher for each weapon.

That effort, the first of its kind sponsored by the city since 1993, collected 57 guns and distributed $5,700 worth of gift cards in six hours.

Supporters of gun-buyback programs say they help reduce gun violence. This year has been especially violent in Camden, with 65 homicides, the most ever.

Critics contend gun buyback programs do little to reduce crimes and say hardened criminals aren't the ones who usually turn in weapons, which are often old and rusty. Furthermore, the firearms turned in were generally locked away and not easily found by burglars.

Miguel Valdez, 30, a cabdriver who lives in the Cramer Hill neighborhood, arrived at Higher Ground with a revolver and an assault rifle that he said belonged to a relative. They had been sitting in his attic for two years, he said.

"I don't want them in the house," said Valdez, who has an 8-year-old daughter.

The $400 he received will go toward Christmas presents, he said.