A line of cars snaked around the government office parking lot, down Bendix Road and for up to half a mile along Route 108 in the late morning and the afternoon, as people waited for hours to trade in guns to Howard County police for crisp $100 bills.
At the end of the day police had recovered 631 guns and at 2:30 had to start turning cars away, officials said. The last time they tried a similar effort in 1995, the total number of guns collected was three.
"We didn't know what to expect," said Chief William McMahon, but officials were pleased with the turnout.
The department is the latest to try buying back weapons from its citizens in recent months, and a similar effort in Baltimore in December hauled in 461 firearms. The programs are increasingly popular with police but have been criticized for doing little to recover the types of guns used in violent crimes.
Affluent Howard County already has few problems with violent crime anyway, typically seeing about four homicides in a year. The county logged more forgery and counterfeiting offenses than weapons violations in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
McMahon acknowledged that the effort would not likely draw out hardened criminals, but said the county wanted to get any guns that people didn't want in their homes out of harm's way.
"This is part of an overall gun safety program," he added.
In addition to taking in guns, police gave out gunlocks to anyone who still had a firearm at home. Throughout the day they handed out all of the 200 they had available.
"The tremendous turnout today shows that many people have firearms in their homes that they don't want or need," County Executive Ken Ulman said. "There are now hundreds of fewer rifles and handguns in Howard County that could fall into the hands of children or thieves."
Lance Weakley, 41, an IT contractor from Columbia, said he had many other guns at home than the old shotguns he was planning to turn in.
"I'm worried about them because they are very old and I don't think they're safe to use," he said, explaining that the guns might misfire and injure someone because of their age.
The buyback comes at a time when the General Assembly and other state legislatures across the country are considering tightening gun laws and banning the sale of some types of weapons. McMahon declined to comment on the wisdom of the proposals, and Mark Miller, a spokesman for Ulman, said the event was simply about public safety.
Weakley, though, said he thinks politicians are targeting gun owners unfairly.
"I don't mind them trying to change something," he said. "But I want to see them do something about criminals."
A few cars ahead of him, the Rev. Roberta Carter Matthews took the opposite view, and said she was a strong supporter of gun control measures. "If you can get them off the streets by any means necessary, I'm all for it," she said.
Rich Snyder, 44, an Internet engineer from Columbia, said he used to do target shooting but has not for about seven years. His son is getting to the age where he is old enough to stay home alone and Snyder said he did not want to have his guns — a Glock 17 and a rifle — at home any longer.
"I'm not going to fight off a burglar," he said. "I just have no need for them."
Snyder said he could sell the two guns, and would probably get more for them than the $100 the police offered, but said he did not want to.
"I want it off the street completely," he said.
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