KISSIMMEE - Bob Hayden's Depression-era .22-caliber rifle was an old friend he used to hunt squirrels, rabbits and crows seven decades ago, when a box of 50 short shells cost 14 cents -- and it took a while to save the money. But on Thursday, Hayden, 86, handed the gun, which he received as a prize for selling garden seeds and Cloverine salve, to Osceola County deputy sheriffs. He left with a $50 gasoline gift card and peace of mind from knowing that he had disposed of the weapon safely at a time when shooting deaths are on the rise in Central Florida.
Hayden, of Kissimmee, was one of hundreds of Central Floridians who participated in the annual Kicks for Guns event, this year at three locations: the Florida Citrus Bowl, Central Florida Fairgrounds and Primera Iglesia Cristiana in Osceola. In all, 443 firearms, from sawed-off shotguns to Saturday-night specials, were relinquished. Law officers plan to destroy them. Last year, 310 guns were turned in, but only the Orange County Sheriff's Office and Orlando police participated. I think there's no question that taking 443 guns off the street makes for a safer community for all of us," said Barb Bergin, law-enforcement coordinator for Crimeline, which organizes the event. "You've got to know that if one gun is off the street, it may mean one less robbery, one less person hurt." Officers and deputies asked no questions.
All gun owners had to do was show up, hand over their weapons and accept a reward that ranged from gas or grocery cards to sneakers, depending on the agency. BB guns were accepted, but not all agencies compensated people for them Debbie Collins, 51, of Orlando, walked away from the Citrus Bowl with a pair of child's shoes in exchange for a handgun she said belonged to a relative. With school starting Monday and five children to clothe, "It was a good way to get some kids' sneakers," Collins said. Kicks for Guns was created 10 years ago by WTKS radio host Russ Rollins, now of Monsters in the Morning, who was concerned about increasing gun use among youth. The first exchange gave sneakers -- "kicks" -- for guns "because, at the time, kids were beating each other up and killing each other for Nikes and Reeboks," Rollins said. In the parking lot at Primera Iglesia Cristiana, drivers pulled up and didn't even have to get out of their cars.
A deputy walked up and greeted them, examined their guns, handed out the gas cards and wished them a good day. The whole process took about three minutes per person. "I'm not much into tennis shoes, but I said with the price of gas, this is a good, fair trade," said one man who would not give his name. Several people said they were worried about children finding the weapons at home and hurting themselves. Others, such as Jonathan Race, 43, of St. Cloud, feared having their guns stolen during a burglary.
I've been waiting for an excuse to get rid of it," said Race, who turned in an old .22-caliber rifle that he last used two decades ago. Retiree Harry Marker, of Poinciana, had a practical reason for unloading his .22 automatic: He carries a 9 mm pistol now. "If I have to shoot somebody with a .22, it ain't gonna do too much," said Marker, 61, who dropped off the gun with his 11-year-old granddaughter in the passenger seat. "I carry a bigger one if I'm with my family."