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Gun owners trade thousands of firearms for debit cards

Jeremy Simon

Got a gun? Give it up, get a gift.

Hundreds of people recently chose debit cards over guns during firearm exchange programs in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Chicago. Local law enforcement agencies in those cities distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in J.P. Morgan Chase prepaid debit cards to citizens in exchange for more than 7,500 working firearms — no questions asked.

Altogether, the two cities distributed $747,740 worth of prepaid debit cards.

Chicagoans turned in thousands of weapons. According to a press release from Chase, Chicago police collected 7,050 firearms during the city’s “Don’t Kill a Dream, Save a Life” gun turn-in program on July 26, 2008. “Participants received $100 J.P. Morgan prepaid debit cards for weapons and $10 cards for BB guns, air rifles and replica guns,” the press release says. More than 18,000 guns have been collected since 2006.

According to Colleen Stone from the office of the Chief Financial Officer for the City of Chicago, $615,000 worth of debit cards were distributed, made up of 6,050 debit cards worth $100 and 1,000 debit cards worth $10.

The New York swap on July 19 netted fewer guns, despite a better exchange rate: The New York City Police Department and King’s County (Brooklyn) District Attorney’s Office collected nearly 700 weapons, with guns traded for a $200 J.P. Morgan prepaid debit card and BB guns and air pistols for a $20 card. “Overall, 697 functioning guns were collected, including 204 revolvers, 193 pistols, 226 rifles and shotguns and 12 assault weapons,” the press release says.

“The total value of prepaid debit cards distributed was $132,740. This figure represents 660 guns at $200 a piece and 37 pellet guns at $20 each,” says Sandy Silverstein, communications specialist for the King’s County District Attorney’s office.

Your shirt could end up hanging on one of those Brooklyn weapons. “The guns will be melted down into hangers to be used at dry cleaners,” J.P. Morgan says in its press release.

Former gun owners can use their debit cards surcharge-free at any Chase or Allpoint ATM. The Chicago MasterCard debit cards can be used surcharge-free at any store that accepts MasterCard.

J.P. Morgan says that debit cards make a good bartering choice for several reasons: They avoid the need to manage large amount of cash at multiple locations, which would require added security and administration; debit cards are easier to manage and distribute that paper checks; they can be handed out on the spot at each gun collection site; due to their small size and weight debit cards are easy to catalog and track for reimbursement; they avoid the issue of mailing checks and give cardholders instant access to their funds instead of having to wait for checks to arrive in the mail.

Debit cards also keep the gun owners anonymous. “Cards are kept generic and activation does not capture the name of the person claiming the incentive to protect his or her anonymity,” J.P. Morgan vice president of treasury services media relations John T. Murray says via e-mail. “If paper checks were distributed, the recipient’s name would no longer remain anonymous.”

How does a firearm swap happen? “In general, the cities collect donations to support their gun buy-back efforts,” Murray says. “J.P. Morgan charges each city a small per-card fee to support bank-related expenses associated with initiating the card program.”

What do you think of offering debit cards in exchange for firearms?

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  • Ymal Brucker

    At a cutoff point of about $200, it’s a win-win situation.
    The debit card provider gets some publicity, and the pawn shops and dealers have an opportunity to get rid of their pot-metal junk that won’t work and can’t be made to work at a profit.

  • Ben

    wouldn’t this be the best way to get away with commiting a crime with a gun? you anonymously give away (and get paid for) the main piece of evidence linking you to a crime, and the gov destroys the evidence for you.
    maybe I’ve just watched way too much Law & Order