The line of cars snaked out of the parking lot, its tail disappearing around the block. It inched forward as drivers one-by-one rolled down their windows and handed over weapons — pistols, shotguns, assault rifles. San Diego Police officers checked for bullets, then piled the guns on a table inside.

“Look at this,” said Rancho Peñasquitos resident Pete Mapaneo, displaying a black .22 caliber handgun before handing it over to an officer. “It looks like a toy, but it’s deadly. If my grandkids got it, oh no.”

It was the third gun exchange organized by the United African American Ministerial Action Council, a southeastern San Diego nonprofit that on Monday gave out $100 and $200 grocery gift cards in exchange for the weapons, no questions asked.

The annual event was organized amid a swell of resident outrage after the 2008 shooting deaths of two teenagers. Residents wanted to get guns out of neighborhoods before they could cause harm.

Many in line Monday morning lived within blocks of the nonprofit’s office in the Diamond neighborhoods near Euclid Avenue and Market Street and said they’d lived the area’s history of violent crime.

But others like Mapaneo came from as far away as Rancho Peñasquitos, Oceanside, and Jamul, and had never visited this particular part of town. Some in line said they thought it a good idea to get guns off the streets.

For Mattie Davis, a 79-year-old who lives nearby and showed up to turn over her .22 caliber pistol, the danger seemed quite the opposite. It wasn’t until she left southeastern San Diego that she felt compelled to buy a gun.

Davis was raised in the area, but moved away with her husband several decades ago as his job building tract homes took him east, in the direction of San Diego’s development boom, to communities she hardly knew.

To protect herself, she bought the gun when she moved to Rancho San Diego near Jamul and kept it on the passenger’s seat of her car as she drove to and from her nighttime job.

But in the last decade she moved back to the southeastern San Diego neighborhood where she grew up. She said she felt safe at night again.

“I know everybody here,” she said. “Why do I need a gun? I don’t need it anymore.”

And so she showed up with her son Clarence to surrender it for a $100 Food 4 Less gift card. She planned to spend it immediately at the shopping center next door.

For police, getting guns off the streets can seem a Sisyphean task, and Monday’s haul of 163 handguns and assault rifles was a sobering, table-top display of the firepower potential that peppers San Diego’s urban neighborhoods.

Police officers fear that even in safe homes, guns can get into the wrong hands — like children’s or burglars’ — and wreak havoc. Before destroying the guns, the Police Department will run their serial numbers against a database of weapons stolen or sought in connection with a past crime. Then, said SDPD evidence handler Mona Vallon, they’ll be cut up.

Vallon would’ve liked to have her officers wear gloves to avoid disturbing fingerprints on weapons thought to be connected to crimes, but that might have deterred people from handing over their guns. In the last two years, there were no database matches, she said.

Sergeant Kurt Grube of SDPD’s Southeastern Division called the haul a success. The event gave away almost $9,000 in donated gift cards.

Residents wanting to get rid of guns at other times of the year, he said, can bring them to a San Diego police station, though they won’t get anything in return.

“But we will impound it for them no problem,” he said.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter:

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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