Hoping to save lives, Howard County law enforcement officers will supervise a "no-questions-asked" gun turn-in tomorrow at the First Baptist Church of Guilford in Columbia.
The site is one of 16 in Maryland, Washington and Virginia where the weapons will be collected. This is the fifth annual program sponsored by Enough is Enough, a Cloverly-based group that works to prevent gun violence.
"People are dying," said Julie A. Elseroad, president of Enough is Enough. "The solution to violence has to take a regional approach."
Police said tomorrow's program provides residents an opportunity to give up guns they are afraid to keep in their homes. "Some people bought guns years ago for protection, and now they know they're a greater danger to someone in the house," said Sgt. Steve Keller, a police spokesman.
Guns stored in homes are used in domestic assaults and suicides and are stolen or are taken to school by children, according to police and safety advocates. Maryland law requires gun owners to keep weapons out of the reach of children to prevent accidents.
Each day in the United States, 15 children younger than 19 are killed by firearms, including homicides, suicides and unintentional killings, according to statistics for 1993, Nancy Fenton, director of educational programs for Baltimore-based Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, said recently. Her group promotes gun-control legislation.
The only shooting incident this year in Howard County occurred March 2, when police said a Lochearn boy wounded a Wilde Lake High School student outside his Columbia apartment in a dispute over a girl.
Tomorrow will be the second formal gun turn-in for Howard County. Last year's program drew at least 20 people who turned in 15 firearms and about 300 rounds of ammunition.
Ms. Elseroad said Enough is Enough has collected about 600 guns since it began the program in 1993.
Organizers say the process is simple.
Some people just walk up and hand officers unloaded weapons in shopping bags. Drivers usually pull up to the parking lot of the site, open the rear door or the trunk from inside their vehicle and then one of four police officers or Howard sheriff's deputies unloads the weapon.
The weapons are put in a police truck and later taken to the police property room, where police check serial numbers to find out if they are stolen.
Eventually, the weapons are melted down at the Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Sparrows Point. Police usually give any ammunition to the state fire marshal's office for disposal.
The destruction will help keep violent crime in check, police said.
According to Maryland State Police statistics for last year, 401 of the 579 murders involved handguns and shotguns; 10,864 of 20,146 robberies involved firearms; and 5,636 of 24,692 aggravated assaults involved firearms.
Because of the violence associated with handguns, organizers planned the turn-ins at area churches.
"We wanted the communities of faith to actually work toward peace," Ms. Elseroad said. "It's not enough to think about peace and pray for peace, we have to be out there working toward it."
The turn-in is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow at First Baptist Church of Guilford's Dora Mack Carter Center, 7504 Oakland Mills Road.
The Have a Heart Business Alliance will donate $25 to the Children's National Medical Center in Washington for each gun collected.
Last year, the arsenal collected during the Howard turn-in included pellet guns, cheap handguns, hunting rifles, a .45-caliber handgun manufactured in 1913, a small, 1930s-era rusted brown gun from Budapest, a jar of mixed bullets and other ammunition.
"Collecting even one gun is a success," Sergeant Keller said. "We'll take whatever people give us."