LONG BEACH - Long Beach has taken a step toward what would be the first city-sponsored gun buyback since 1999.

The City Council voted 8-0 Tuesday to direct staff to look into creating and funding a gun buyback program, an action that follows similar moves in communities nationwide to address gun violence in the wake of a Dec. 14 mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults.

Results of the gun buyback investigation will reported to the council within 90 days.

Councilman Steve Neal, who authored the legislation to explore a buyback, said such a program would allow residents to take unwanted firearms out of their homes.

"The city of Long Beach should do all it can to help take guns out of the community," Neal said.

Last month, neighboring Los Angeles held a gun buyback, collecting two empty rocket launchers among 2,037 weapons in total. Participants received supermarket gift cards for guns in the "no-questions-asked" exchange.

The prospect of recovering a weapon used in a crime - and not being able to connect it with the party that turned it in - concerns Long Beach Police Department officials.

LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell said a gun buyback amnesty is opposed, but any firearm taken off the street is welcome, even outside of an organized collection.

"We can send a unit out at any time and take a gun away from a resident of the city who wants it held for safekeeping, or to dispose of it," said McDonnell.

While critics may consider gun buybacks a symbolic gesture, Councilman James Johnson, who co-sponsored the legislation along with Councilman Al Austin, said it's important to discuss all tools to reduce shootings.

He also encouraged staff to look at ways to encourage the collection of guns most likely used in violent incidents, such as semi-automatic handguns.

"Let's not do a program just to do a program," Johnson said. "Let's do a program to reduce violence."

Long Beach also operated a gun buyback in May 1994.

Ralphs markets donated 50 certificates for $100 for that buyback, where police collected guns from about 100 people in the first-come, first-served, no-questions-asked event.

Statistics reported last year showed that as of July 24, the city had logged 162 shootings, 72 of them gang related. That was higher than the same point the previous year, when there were 117 shootings, with 64 connected to gangs, according to the LBPD.

Crime figures for 2012 are expected to be released this week, but unofficial numbers indicate that overall violent crime declined last year.

Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske was absent Tuesday.

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