New London — Jim Parsells of Uncasville got a .22-caliber Ruger more than 60 years ago when he was in the military.
"I bought it to shoot jackrabbits," he said. "I was an 18-year-old kid making sure the runways were clear for B-52s and B-47s to land.''
Parsells was standing in line outside the city police department's Truman Street Substation Saturday morning waiting to turn in his Ruger and two other weapons for cash in a city-sponsored gun buy-back.
Eventually, Parsells traded his 70-year-old handgun, the first gun he ever owned and a 22-gauge shotgun made by Sears, Roebuck and Co. for $275 in debit-style gift cards.
But along with many who stood in the cold waiting their turn, he was skeptical that the program would get guns out of the hands of criminals.
"This is a little bit of a farce,'' he said, as he pointed out that all of the dozen or so people in line were older, including two men who were wearing retired Navy caps.
"Look at us," he said. "There's not a criminal here. We're all nice guys turning in guns we don't want."
Barry Weiner, the head of the city's Water & Water Pollution Control Authority, was there to turn in a .22-caliber handgun he once used for target shooting. He agreed that the program seems more like a feel-good notion than an effective way to battle crime.
"This is foolish,'' he said. "Nobody here will do anything illegal with these guns. The people who need to get rid of their guns aren't going to bring them here."
Another man, a gun collector from Baltic who did not want to give his name, brought an AK-47 rifle he had purchased legally in 1993, a year before the ban on assault-style weapons. He said he was turning it in because he "did not want to be a criminal."
"I did all the paperwork ... I was approved by the state police ... but now it's illegal for me to own it,'' he said.
The weapon is worth about $2,000, he said, but he has no legal way of selling it. Another gun owner standing near him joked that he would give him a trip to Hawaii for the gun.
The Baltic man said he would take the gift card and buy more guns.
On Saturday, the first day of the weekend event, the buy-back collected 40 handguns, 38 long guns and the one AK-47. Nine long guns that did not qualify for the buy-back program also were turned in.
Police distributed $7,175 in gift cards to 47 individuals.
The buy-back continues from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and next weekend at the substation, 40 Truman St.
A month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown in December, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced the program, which is being funded with donations from local religious organizations and the New London County Bar Association. Police are distributing debit-style gift cards in $75, $100 and $150 increments in return for shotguns, handguns and rifles. The program is open to New London County residents. No more than three weapons per person will be accepted.
It is not an amnesty program. Serial numbers are being checked. The guns will be turned over to the State Police Firearms Unit for destruction.
Inside the substation on Saturday, five police officers checked serial numbers and called the dispatch center to be sure the guns were not linked to a crime. They took pictures of picture IDs and filled out multiple pages of paperwork. The process took about 20 minutes per person.
Despite the long lines outside, a jovial group kidded with one another about being criminals and the need for a portable toilet, and debated whether the program would be effective.
"It's just making the politicians feel better,'' said one man who did not want to be identified.
A Scotland resident, who also did not want to be identified, said he was disappointed in the way the program was being run. He waited more than an hour to turn in a shotgun and a .22-caliber Magnum. They were owned by his father, who passed away recently.
"No good deed goes unpunished,'' he said, adding that he could have sold the weapons on the Internet but wanted to do it the right way.
"I'll never do this again,'' he said.
For Myrna Edgecomb, whose late husband Roswell was a Waterford police officer, the program offered her a way to dispose of three pistols.
"I thought, 'what the heck,'" she said. "It'll get them out of the house."