The residents received grocery vouchers in exchange for the firearms – and a promise not be investigated, unless the weapon was found to have been involved in a crime.
The state has sponsored the exchange program for eleven years. On Wednesday, officials from law enforcement, the army and judicial system were on hand as this year’s arsenal was destroyed.
“Citizens wanted to use these weapons for self-defense, to personally carry out justice,” said Gen. Gilberto Landeros, the commander of the Second Military Zone. “Today, they have more confidence in institutions to protect them.”
The general referred to the years 2008 to 2010, the height of drug violence in the region, when 2,327 murders were committed in Tijuana alone and hundreds disappeared or were kidnapped.
Baja California’s Secretary for Public Safety, Daniel de la Rosa, said that more than 30,000 weapons have been exchanged during the program’s 11 years, and none has been linked to a crime.
“That’s 30,000 crimes or accidents that we have avoided during that time,” said De la Rosa.
He said that authorities have been able to determine that 80 per cent of the weapons came from the United States, and were made there or in countries such as Israel, France or Italy.
De la Rosa repeated President Calderon’s criticism that gun shops in the United States as well the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have put assault weapons in the hands of cartel gunmen.
On Wednesday morning, officials from the three levels of government and the military met at a park in the Morelos neighborhood downtown to exhibit the collected weapons before they were destroyed. The weapons were laid on the street, drawing curious onlookers, many taking pictures of the vast, varied arsenal.
In a symbolic act, a steamroller and an electric table saw were used to destroy a dozen rifles. In all, 2,138 weapons were turned in this year, 1,156 in Tijuana.
De la Rosa said the state spent 3 million pesos (about $214,600) on groceries for the exchange program this year and has allocated 5 million pesos for next year’s ($357,650) effort.