December 26, 2012 | 1:52pm
Hundreds of people showed up at the Sports Arena this morning to turn in their guns in exchange for grocery store gift cards. But they faced a very long wait -- and the possibility that they would walk away empty-handed.
A man who gave his name as "Monster" said he wanted to turn in a handgun. He had been waiting in his car for two hours, which was typical.
"I bought it from a guy to get it out of his hands," he said. "I want to leave, but I don't want to drive around with this gun."
By noon, it seemed likely that the city would run out of gift cards.
"We're making calls now to see if we can get more money," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. If they ran out, he said, "We're hoping the people of this town just give up the guns anyway."
The city's annual gun buyback is usually held in May. Villaraigosa moved it up to today in response to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
His staff had about a week to put the event together, which required raising money and bringing in extra police officers during the holiday. In the end, they raised about $130,000 -- enough to buy back more than 1,000 guns.
Those who turned in rifles, shotguns and handguns were given a $100 Ralphs gift card. Those who turned in assault weapons were given cards worth $200. The city has been doing the program every year since 2009, bringing about 2,000 guns per event.
By late morning, the LAPD had collected about 575 guns at the Sports Arena and at the Van Nuys Masonic Temple. At the Sports Arena, the line of cars snaked from Martin Luther King Boulevard up Figueroa Street. No traffic attendants were monitoring the line, and some people complained about other drivers cutting in front of them.
LAPD officers were tasked with receiving the guns -- which seemed to take several minutes per car.
Merlin Saulny, 71, said he brought a .22-caliber rifle and a handgun. He said his home had been broken into several times, but he had come to realize that "the chance of you defending yourself is remote." He worried that it was more likely the guns would be stolen.
"I figure it's safer to get rid of them than to keep them," he said.
Erick Pena, of Santa Monica, brought in a rifle and a shotgun. Because he has kids in the house, he said, "I want to lower down my stash."