SAN MATEO -- Outraged by last month's massacre in Newtown, Conn., Bay Area gun control advocates organized two separate events on Saturday, echoing calls in the nation's capital for strengthening gun laws.
In San Mateo, several local politicians, including Rep. Jackie Speier, organized a gun buyback that attracted hundreds of area residents who turned in more than 700 handguns and rifles. At the same time, in San Francisco, members of the local chapter of a new advocacy group called the One Million Moms for Gun Control, marched in support of more restrictive gun laws.
The number of people who turned out for the buyback event -- many of whom had to wait an hour or more to turn in their guns -- suggests that "people recognize the time has come to get guns out of their homes and return them to a safer place," said Speier, D-San Mateo.
The gun control issue has been front and center since Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. In the wake of the shootings, President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and other politicians -- mostly Democrats -- have called for new gun restrictions, including universal background checks and bans on military-style assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines.
Those calls have been joined by One Million Moms for Gun Control, an organization founded the day of -- and in response to -- the Newtown massacre. Affiliates of the group marched Saturday not only in San Francisco but also in 12 other cities nationwide, including Washington, D.C.
Thousands of people took part in the march in the capital, including about 100 residents of Newtown. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the crowd that the president would do everything he could to tighten gun laws.
"This is about trying to create a climate in which our children can grow up free of fear," Duncan said. "We must act. We must act. We must act."
The proposed new restrictions have been opposed by the National Rifle Association, most Republican politicians and some Democrats from rural states.
Representatives of the NRA didn't immediately return calls seeking comment on Saturday's gun control events.
While Newtown may have been in the minds of the organizers of the buyback event in San Mateo, many of those participating had more practical or personal reasons for handing in their guns. Event organizers paid $100 for each handgun, shotgun or rifle and $200 for each assault weapon, and many participants simply saw the buyback, held at the San Mateo County Event Center, as a good way to get rid of seldom used weapons.
Jim Welton, 73, of El Granada, turned in a .22 caliber rifle that he said he got from a neighbor nearly 60 years ago. Although he once used it for shooting squirrels and rats, Welton said he hadn't used the rifle in decades.
"I don't want it in the house," he said. "I don't need to have it."
Others cited concerns about the safety of their family members. Simon Lee of Daly City said he turned in a rifle he'd had since he participated in junior ROTC in high school some 35 years ago. Lee said he doesn't use the gun any more and doesn't have a place to store it securely. He has teenage children in the house and worried about them or their friends having access to it.
"It's better just to have one less firearm in the house that somebody else can break into or get access to," said Lee, 52.
Others expressed concerns that their unused guns might fall into the hands of criminals.
San Jose resident Ron Hegemier, 78, drove up to San Mateo to turn in an SKS semi-automatic rifle. Hegemier formerly used the gun for target practice but hasn't shot it for 14 or 15 years.
He decided to take it to the buyback rather than selling it to a gun shop because doing the latter would "just put one more gun back on the street," he said. The event Saturday, Hegemier added, was about getting "rid of whatever guns you can get rid of."
The buyback was the first held in San Mateo in recent memory, event organizers said, but it follows similar events last month in San Francisco and Oakland. During a buyback in Seattle on Saturday, one person turned in a surface-to-air missile tube, according to the Seattle Times.
Nothing that exotic was handed in at the San Mateo event, but by the end of Saturday's buyback, citizens had turned over some 338 handguns, 371 rifles and shotguns and 24 military-style assault weapons, said Katrina Rill, a spokeswoman for Rep. Speier.
The weapons handed included a sawed-off shotgun, the possession of which is a felony offense, and a so-called Street Sweeper, a shotgun that holds multiple cartridges in a revolving cylinder like that on a revolver.
In return for the guns, organizers handed out $63,500, said Rebecca Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, which ran the buyback. The money came from private donations, including a personal contribution from Speier, Rill said.
The issue of gun control is a long-standing one for Speier, who organized a buyback while serving in the state Assembly more than 15 years ago. While a staffer for Rep. Leo Ryan, Speier was part of a mission to investigate Jim Jones' cult colony in Guyana. Speier was shot five times and left for dead in an ambush that killed Ryan.
Organizers planned to catalog the guns to look for weapons reported lost or those used in crimes. Then they planned to destroy the guns, which included a smattering of military-style weapons along with numerous rifles and handguns.
In San Francisco, the march by the local chapter of the One Million Moms group was the first chance for most members to meet each other in person and to raise awareness for their campaign, said Christine Tachner, the local chapter's co-chairwoman.
The local branch was founded three days after the Newtown massacre and now has nearly two thousand members, she said. Some 300 people, including adults and children, showed up for the San Francisco event, she said.
Tachner said that while local members wanted to show their support for and solidarity with their fellow members in other cities, the event at Crissy Field was more of a "stroll" than a march. The group didn't head to City Hall and didn't have any loudspeakers, she noted.
"Ours was a more low-key, family event," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.