Bridgeton Police Sargent Richard Zanni was busy possessing guns during the two-day gun buyback program at the St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Bridgeton Friday, June 7, 2013. Photo/Dave Griffin

Law enforcement officials Friday bought rusted rifles, assault weapons and even a full-scale World War I German machine gun during the first day of a two-day firearm buyback program in Cumberland County.

The number of weapons purchased was not available, but Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said about 600 had been turned in by noon.

Webb-McRae said she was pleased with the results, especially in light of Friday’s rainy weather. She said she expects today’s buyback session could result in more purchases than were made on Friday.

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The gun buy-back program will run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today at St. Andrews’s Episcopal Church, 186 E. Commerce Street, Bridgeton; Cornerstone Community Church, 1200 N. High Street, Millville; and Word of Life Christian Worship Center, 425 N. Sixth Street, Vineland.

Friday, sellers carried their weapons into the three houses of worship in plain view or partially concealed in everything from plastic shopping bags to tennis racket covers. One elderly woman carried a shotgun wrapped in a towel with pictures of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.

Jasmin Calderon, a lieutenant with the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office who was stationed at the Cornerstone Community Church, said she was pleased with the steady flow of people who wanted to sell their firearms.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons here,” she said, nodding in the direction of several large red trash cans filled with shotguns, rifles and handguns.

Authorities at the church said they had collected about 250 weapons by noon.

Authorities said when they announced the program several weeks ago that people feel more comfortable selling their weapons at a house of worship rather than at a government building.

Eric Brown, a deacon at the Cornerstone Community Church, said that is likely true, as gun sellers started lining up at the door about a half-hour before the purchasing began. The line of sellers at one point stretched from the church door and up a flight of stairs to the room where the gun purchases were being made, he said.

Brown said he is glad authorities are using his church.

“Anyway to help the community, that’s what we all about,” Brown said. “We want to help get guns off the street.”

While most of the sellers remained anonymous, 72-year-old Bridgeton resident Paul Saar agreed to talk about why he sold the .22-caliber handgun he bought back in 1964.

Saar said he tried to use the handgun for target practice a few years ago, only to find that the firing pin was missing. He said he subsequently learned the gun lost its firing pin when one of his grandchildren took apart and then reassembled the weapon a few years earlier.

Saar said he had mixed reactions as to the whether gun buybacks work. He said while they may prevent children from getting a handgun and accidentally injuring themselves or others, only law-abiding citizens are likely to turn in their weapons.

“Criminals never will,” he said.

The cash-for-guns program in Cumberland County is the seventh sponsored by the state Attorney General’s Office. The event brought together law enforcement officials from police departments in Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland, the State Police, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office and the Prosecutor’s Office.

Authorities will buy up to three firearms per person with no questions asked. They will pay up to $250 for a weapon, depending on the type of weapon.

Authorities said they will try to return stolen weapons to their rightful owners. The other weapons will be destroyed.

The final weapon purchase count and other details about the gun buyback program will be disclosed during a press conference tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, law enforcement officials said.


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