“About 250 guns, including shotguns — sawed-off and non-modified — a Tech 9, an AR15, assault weapons, a .380 handgun, a 9mm, a .30-06, an Uzi, small handguns, single shots, and many others were traded in,” explained Dennis “Mars” Martinez.
On December 19, at the Bryco building located at 5275 Market Street, Martinez, with fellow skateboarders Harvey Hawks and Neil Carver, were taking in guns as trade-ins for skateboards.
“[We are doing this] to take illegal guns off the street, to make our community safer from stolen guns,” said Martinez. “No questions asked, meaning if a gun was used to commit a murder, no questions asked. If the gun was stolen, no questions asked. If the gun was tampered and serial numbers ground off, no questions asked.”
The gun exchange was started in 2009 by Rev. Gerald Brown from the United African American Ministerial Action Council. In 2015, Longboarding for Peace, African-American clergy, and Martinez’s Training Center San Diego collaborated to help make this event happen.
The term “gun exchange” is synonymous with “gun buy-back,” which is confusing to some. An agency, business, or the general public cannot literally “buy back” guns from the police department after they are turned in; rather, the police department, in conjunction with organizations, can offer gift cards and in this case, skateboards, to barter for the guns. Cash has been an option with gun buy-back programs in the past.
Between 8 and 11 a.m. on December 19, approximately 45 skateboards and $20,000 in gift certificates were traded.
Martinez, a former skateboarding champion, currently co-owns a state-licensed drug-and-alcohol rehab program called Off the Street, which houses men released from prison: lifers, gang members, and drug addicts.
“We use ex-gang members and parolees to speak to the youth and share our stories, so that they do not go down the same path.”
On Martinez’s social media, he posted a photo of himself autographing a skateboard for a man sitting in his vehicle, which he captioned, “… fathers turned in their guns for a skateboard, and then we let the kids pick out the skateboard!!!”
San Diego Police Department personnel were the only ones allowed to remove the guns from the vehicles when they pulled up. They carried the guns to a table where they were photographed, tagged, documented, and then secured in a van to be transported to downtown police headquarters.
“The guns are held at the gun desk or property room,” said officer Joshua Hodge from the SDPD. “The serial numbers are then turned into the Department of Justice to check for theft.” If the gun was stolen, the theft victim will be notified to optionally collect his/her property, assuming the victim can still legally own a gun.
Since there was a “no questions asked” policy when the guns were turned in, the policy will remain in effect even after the guns are either returned to the legal owners, not claimed, or sent to get recycled or destroyed.
“I am a Second Amendment believer, but I also know that illegal guns are illegal, and to get them off the street out of gang members’ and criminals’ hands is a win-win situation,” Martinez said.
“I believe anybody can create one [a gun buy-back program], as long as they partner in with the proper authorities,” said Officer Hodge. This particular gun exchange was overseen by the SDPD’s Southeastern Division.
The skateboards provided were mostly Carver Skateboards that retail for $299 apiece. The other boards available were Ollie Angel, Loaded, Bustin, and Martinez’s own Flying Aces line, which he started with Jodie Royak and his daughter Cristiana.