By David Ariosto and Ross Levitt
BRIDGEPORT, Connecticut (CNN) — Tables filled with handguns, shotguns and rifles packed a police building in Connecticut’s most populous city, where a gun buyback program drew scores of gun owners — many of whom said they were motivated to get rid of their weapons in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
But unlike other buyback events, the funding that allows these purchases in Bridgeport — more than $130,000 — is almost totally comprised of private donations, according to mayoral spokeswoman Elaine K. Ficarra.
City officials say they plan to hold the event every weekend until the money runs out, with more than 200 guns having been collected in the first two days.
“We’ve seen an outpouring from the community since Sandy Hook in all manners, from teddy bears to cash,” said police Chief Joseph Gaudett Jr.
Officials say they have since paid out more than $22,000 in the exchanges, snagging powerful weapons such as the AR-15, the same kind of gun used to kill 26 adults and children on December 14 in the neighboring Newtown school.
“These guns could have created victims,” said Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch. “We know if we can reduce the number of weapons that are available through breaking into people’s houses and grabbing guns, we are a safer society.”
Police say they are offering $75 for rifles, up to $200 for handguns and potentially as much as $400 for assault-style rifles.
Last year, a lack of funds prompted city officials to cancel the program, which was subsidized in 2010 by the Bridgeport Housing Authority. But this year’s turn to private money seems in line with other donation-based programs that have caught on elsewhere.
On December 15, an event in Oakland, California nabbed nearly 400 guns off the street after making use of a $100,000 donation from Keith Stephenson, owner of a local medical marijuana dispensary, according to police spokeswoman Johnna Watson.
On the same day in San Francisco, city officials said a private donor-based event proved so successful that police were forced to issue IOUs.
Still, many larger cities such as New York use government money, which authorities say also may be gaining traction.
In Los Angeles this week, officials moved up their annual Mother’s Day buyback program due to the Sandy Hook shooting, netting more than 2,000 weapons, including two rocket launchers.
And yet gun sales have surged nationally as enthusiasts rush to purchase weapons out of concern of possibly tighter regulations ahead.
The FBI has recorded 16.8 million instant background checks so far this year. In 2011 — a record year — the FBI conducted nearly 400,000 fewer.
CNN’s Ross Levitt reported from Bridgeport, Connecticut. David Ariosto reported from New York City.
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