Category: World / January 9, 2013 4:42 PM EST
Mexican authorities on Tuesday (January 8) exchanged weapons for computers, tablets and educational materials outside Mexico City's iconic Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe as part of a new campaign to get guns off city streets.
The program, "For Your Family, Voluntary Disarming," was first launched in the crime-toughened borough of Iztapalapa on Christmas Eve. Over 1,300 weapons were collected in the initial effort.
On Tuesday, the program was expanded to Gustavo A. Madero, the northern-most of the city's 16 boroughs, where officials have been attempting to convince local residents about the dangers of keeping weapons at home and trying to persuade people to hand them over to authorities.
"We have to protect the children. The problem is that there are many children who behave foolishly, and we must protect them. As the saying goes, weapons are loaded by the devil. We must be very vigilant and take care of children," local resident Tzekub Sanjas said.
Each weapon handed over was examined by uniformed soldiers who determined the gun's value, as Mexico's strict gun laws are regulated entirely by the country's military.
As part of the programme, some 1,500 social workers have been going door-to-door to try to convince neighbours to turn their weapons in with promises of gifts and no questions asked.
Local resident Alfredo Hernandez said that he would have been unlikely to turn his weapon over if it were not for the promise of a new computer.
"If it wasn't for the computer, I obviously wouldn't hand it over. I need a computer. It benefits society that I hand it over, but I need a computer. Society can give that to me. In this case SEDENA (The Secretariat of Defense) or the government can give me a computer," he said.
Another local resident, Laura Navarrete, said she was lured by the possibility of cash.
"We heard they are giving away tablets, and money. If they are giving out money, it will go for my sons who are at university at the Polytechnic (National Polytechnic Institute)," she said.
Weapons collected in the exchange programme are tagged by soldiers and will eventually be destroyed.
Mexico City and its immediate surroundings have been among the areas least affected by the bloody turf wars between drug gangs and their clashes with security forces, which have killed more than 60,000 people over the past six years.
Some neighbourhoods of the city, however, have been plagued by an increase in drug and gang violence over the last year.
In November, for example, a 10-year old was shot and killed inside a movie theatre in Iztapalapa after being hit by a stray bullet fired in the neighbourhood.