Amnesty's going great guns

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Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press
Const. Al Akre collects a rifle from Zelmir Krasovec Thursday during the Pixels for Pistols program, in which guns are exchanged for cameras from Henry's.

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Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press Const. Al Akre collects a rifle from Zelmir Krasovec Thursday during the Pixels for Pistols program, in which guns are exchanged for cameras from Henry's.

Photos by TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 
Const. Alan Akre collects hunting knives, ammo and a pair of rifles from a Winnipeg residence Thursday

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Photos by TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Const. Alan Akre collects hunting knives, ammo and a pair of rifles from a Winnipeg residence Thursday

Revolvers, flare guns, 1950s-era Soviet-made SKS semi-automatic rifles, muskets, .22-calibres, Second World War-era British-made Enfield rifles.

Those represent the range of firearms being turned in to Winnipeg police in the first week of the hugely successful Pixels for Pistols gun amnesty program.

"The response from the public has been simply awesome," Sgt. Geordie MacKenzie, head of the WPS gun amnesty program, said. "We never anticipated we would see this many firearms turned in so quickly."

Through the partnership with Toronto-based retailer Henry's and Panasonic, digital point-and-shoot cameras are being given out for every workable firearm turned in during November. Gift certificates for three hours of photography lessons are given out for ammunition and non-working firearms.

By the end of the campaign's first week, more than 400 firearms had been collected, easily smashing the number set in 2010 when Winnipeggers turned in 192 firearms during a 30-day campaign.

"We really didn't know what to expect at the beginning," said Const. Alan Akre, one of six officers assigned to retrieve the guns. "Right out of the gate, it's been hugely successful."

Akre spends his 10-hour shifts retrieving the weapons, making calls from his cruiser to individuals who said they've got firearms they no longer want.

The Free Press recently accompanied Akre as he made his rounds.

"We're getting more calls than we can handle," Akre said.

After individuals have called police and said they've got firearms to turn in, the information is logged into the WPS computer system and appears as a call report. Officers are sent out to contact the callers and pick up the weapons.

Akre said the calls are coming in from every area of the city.

"It's a great incentive," Bill Hughes, a retired North Kildonan resident, said as he waited in a fourth-floor office at the Public Safety Building to pick up his gift certificates. "I had a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun that used to belong to my dad and a pellet handgun.

"I didn't have any use for either of them but I didn't know what to do with them. This (Pixels for Pistols) program certainly caught my attention."

Akre said that's the type of comments he's been getting from people as he picks up their unwanted firearms.

"It's just people who either inherited a gun or someone who stopped hunting," Akre, a 32-year veteran of the WPS, said. "It's good to get them off the street."

On this day, Akre's first stop is in the North End at the home of a woman who only agreed to have her first name, Esther, used.

"My husband used to hunt but he hasn't in years," Esther said as she pointed out the bolt-action Enfield .303 and a .22-calibre rifle leaning against the living room wall. "I gave these to my son to dispose but, without telling me, he brought them back and when I was cleaning up, I found them in a closet."

Along with the two rifles, Esther had a bag full of ammunition and a second bag containing several old hunting knifes.

Esther said she was worried about having rifles in the house and being robbed.

"I wouldn't want to see that happen," she said.

As in all bureaucracies, there is a great deal of paperwork associated with the program. First, the gun owner signs a one-page document that states they are willingly surrendering a firearm to the WPS. Then, Akre fills out a voucher for every firearm turned in; pink copy goes to the owner and a yellow copy is tagged to the firearm and goes back to headquarters.

Esther's story is repeated throughout the day.

"The last time I fired this was 45 years ago," Zelmir Krasovec said of the .22-calibre bolt-action repeater rifle.

Krasovec's weapon was disassembled and inside the original box.

"It was in the rafters," Krasovec's wife, Naomi, said.

"I forgot it was there. The kids didn't even know we had it."

Back at the Public Safety Building, the tagged guns are turned in to the firearms room where officers examine them to determine which ones are in working order.

The guns are bundled and taken to an off-site facility where WPS members witness and verify that the firearms are destroyed.

"This program is a great partnership," MacKenzie said. "Us, Henry's and the public."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Pixels

for Pistols

program

Turn in any working firearm (real or replica) to the Winnipeg Police Service in November and you will receive a Henry's gift card redeemable for a Panasonic Lumix digital point-and-shoot camera.

Turn in ammunition or an inoperable firearm and receive a Henry's School of Imaging gift card.

The exchange is open only to Winnipeg residents during November.

Contact Winnipeg police at 204-986-7598 to arrange for firearms to be picked up.

Firearms are not to be taken to police or a Henry's retail outlet.

Police guarantee no charges will be laid as a result of firearms turned in during the campaign.

-- -- --

Henry's initiated the Pixels For Pistols campaign in Toronto in 2008 after one of its stores was robbed by a man armed with a gun. Knowing that many of the firearms used in robberies were originally stolen from law-abiding citizens, Henry's president Ian Landy launched the incentive-based program as a way to reduce the number of firearms that could be stolen and used in robberies.

Almost 1,900 firearms were turned in during the 30-day period in Toronto. Henry's repeated the campaign in 2009 in Halifax, which saw residents turn in almost 1,100 working firearms.

Henry's brought the program to Winnipeg this year to mark the opening of its third store in the city.

Sgt. Geordie MacKenzie, head of the WPS gun amnesty program, said he's confident Winnipeggers will turn in more than the 1,100 reached in Halifax and approach or exceed the Toronto experience.

-- Aldo Santin

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