In crime-toughened Mexico City, cash-for-weapons exchange extended

by Daniel Hernandez,  |  published on January 5, 2013

Promised that no questions would be asked, they’ve brought in handguns, pistols, rifles, grenades, bullets, and dozens of gun replicas that may or may not have been used to spook a robbery victim.

Hundreds of people have turned in nearly a thousand weapons and at least one grenade-launcher in nine days in exchange for gifts and cash — as well as anonymity — in a holiday pilot program that has exceeded government expectations in Mexico’s populous capital.

The program, “For Your Family, Voluntary Disarming,” was launched at the historic Santuario de la Cuevita church in the crime-toughened borough of Iztapalapa on Christmas Eve, with promises of tablet computers and bicycles for handing over any firearms.

By Dec. 31, when the pilot was supposed to end, about 900 weapons had been turned in, said Rodolfo Rivera, the Mexico City police department official in charge of the program. His team restarted the exchange on Wednesday.

The tablets and bikes have long run out, but steadily, men and women of all ages arrived with nervous expressions and a curious-looking bag or two. Because Mexico’s strict gun laws are regulated by the Mexican military, uniformed soldiers examined each weapon to determine its worth, then tagged the firearms with tape and piled each with others waiting to be destroyed.

Alfonso Trejo, a 63-year-old from a nearby housing project, said he turned in two revolvers for cash and a despensa, a basic-food package in a cardboard box. “You know, kids can be curious. You don’t want that fear, you want calm,” he said.

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