Crime & Courts

Cops in Columbia and Richland County team up for "Guns for Roses"

In a new-found sense of warmth and fuzziness, the top cops in Columbia and Richland County will team up on Valentine’s Day to reduce firepower in the community.

A first-of-its-kind “Guns for Roses” program will seek to get unwanted pistols, rifles and shotguns out of circulation in exchange for free gifts, Columbia police chief Tandy Carter and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Friday.

“We want to see how many guns we can get off the street,” Carter said.

Authorities want gunowners to trade operable firearms for Best Buy gift cards: $100 for pistols and $50 for rifles and shotguns.

Weapons that do not work cannot be exchanged, Carter and Lott said.

Nearly 140 firearms were used in assaults in Columbia during 2008, Carter said.

They were used in about 600 county crimes last year, Lott said.

As the economy worsens, the sheriff fears gun crimes will escalate.

The exchange is directed at people who have unwanted or unused guns - not trained gunowners who have permits to have weapons, Lott said.

About 15 churches have joined the program, which will be held at Friendship Baptist Church, 1237 House St. off Millwood Avenue.

Here is how the exchange will work on Saturday, Feb. 14:

Go to the church between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. with unloaded weapons in a bag that is secured in a trunk. If on foot, bring the weapon in a gym bag.

Hand the weapon to waiting law enforcement officers, who will hand out vouchers.

Take your voucher to the church gym for a gift card only for the Best Buy at 7006 Two Notch Road near Sheriff’s Department headquarters.

Gun trade-in programs are unheard of in South Carolina counties, said Jeff Moore, longtime director of the state Sheriff’s Association.

Columbia police held a gun amnesty day in December 2004 and a similar one a decade earlier when they bought weapons, no questions asked.

City police collected 300 guns in 2004.

Guns for Roses is not an amnesty program, Lott said.

He joined with the city because it signals an effort for more cooperation with Columbia police.

Both lawmen said they hope there will be additional gun exchanges if the Valentine’s Day effort works well.

“On the 14th of February we will determine how successful we are and when we do this again,” Carter said.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.