A day after Angelenos gave up thousands of guns, assault weapons and even some rocket launchers for a buyback program, local officials warned the public to not fire their weapons into the air on New Year's Eve and advocated for stricter gun control laws across the nation.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stood with District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Sheriff Lee Baca, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and others at a news conference to advocate for a safer holiday.

"I implore all Angelenos to remember that firing weapons in the air in celebration puts innocent lives at risk," Villaraigosa said. "Nothing can ruin the holiday season like an errant bullet coming down and hurting or killing an innocent person."

Also during the news conference Thursday, the Los Angeles Police Department displayed several of the 2,037 weapons recovered during the gun buyback program held Wednesday at the Van Nuys Masonic Temple and the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena.

The arsenal included AR-15 assault rifles like the one used in the killing of 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Villaraigosa praised everyone who relinquished firearms in exchange for Ralphs grocery store gift cards of $100 or $200. He was particularly effusive towards the 166 individuals who refused to accept anything in return for their guns.

"You've seized the opportunity to take matters into your own hands and prevent the next tragic shooting, the next unnecessary murder, the next round of chaos and mayhem," he said.

The weapons will be checked to see if they were stolen, and then police will try to return them to their rightful owners. Those that weren't will be destroyed.

Beck, Baca and Villaraigosa said the arsenal in front of them was proof of the need to tighten gun legislation.

The turned-in weapons included 901 handguns, 698 rifles, 363 shotguns and 75 assault weapons - even though California has an assault weapons ban. Several of the firearms had also been illegally modified.

"Many (of these weapons) are illegal to purchase in California, but all of them are legal to purchase in some state, and most are legal in Arizona, which is very close," Beck said.

Villaraigosa called for strengthening gun laws, noting about 40 percent of all gun sales involve private sellers, many of whom don't subject buyers to mandatory background checks that could screen the mentally ill and others who could commit violence.

"A universal background check should be required for every gun sold anywhere in the United States," Villaraigosa said. "The National Rifle Association has historically been against that. They've also been opposed to having a federal registry to be able to really identify who's got a gun and who doesn't."

Last week, the head of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, said the solution to gun violence was not restrictions, but rather to have armed guards in schools. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," LaPierre said in a press conference responding to new calls for gun control after the Connecticut shootings.

He also blamed violent video games and films for promoting violence in society.

On Thursday, responding to the comments by Villaraigosa and the other officials, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich echoed some of those remarks about the entertainment industry as the problem.

"In addition to the dissolution of the family, children growing up in fatherless homes, and decaying morality, the media and the entertainment industry's glorification of violence and crime, attacks on the family and traditional values are having a negative impact on our youth and society," Antonovich said in a written statement.

"For example, the downgrading of motion picture standards - where R rated movies are now PG13 - needs to be reversed."

He also said there needs to be mandatory medical treatment for the mentally ill and stronger programs to disarm probationers and other criminals.

Beck also warned gun owners not to shoot into the sky on New Year's Eve, because the bullets will come back down at a speed of 300 to 700 mph, which can easily pierce a human skull. 

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich urged gun owners to take precautions and not be "knuckleheads."

"Before you begin your celebration on New Year's Eve, take those weapons that you may have, lock them away, put them away up high, away from children," he said.

Shooting firearms into the sky can result in a felony charge, up to three years behind bars, and a fine of up to $10,000 - even if the bullet does not actually harm anybody, District Attorney Lacey said.

"Don't be reckless," she said. "It's not worth it."

Villaraigosa is among more than 700 mayors across the country who signed a letter to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders Dec. 19, calling for legislation that would close loopholes in the background check systems; limit the availability of military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines; and make gun trafficking a federal crime.

christina.villacorte@dailynews.com

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