The pile of toy guns grew bigger Saturday with each child who walked through the door.
Toddlers and teens alike tossed their guns onto the pile, in exchange for $5 and a certificate praising their decision not to play with toy guns.
With each child, organizers chalked up another success: one more child saying no to guns before he gets old enough to trade his SuperSoaker for a semiautomatic.
"Where do you start, and where do you finish?" asked Debbie Ransom, an organizer of the toy gun buyback at the Kensington-Bailey Community Center. "You start out playing with a toy gun, but where do you go after that? In light of the violence and crime, we need to show our children right from the start, when they pick up a toy gun, we don't want you to have a smile when you do that. Pick up a book and have a smile."
"We have to start teaching our children at earlier ages the results of these types of actions, because that's what they're dying for," said Laura Jackson, founder of the buyback and of a group called Dealing Effectively After The Homicide. Her 17-year-old son Torriano was killed several years ago by a man with an AK-47.
"You start now and make it a no-no and change the train of thought," she said. "If we don't start with our children, we might as well give up."
The idea behind the buyback, community leaders said, is to send the message: guns are bad -- all guns are bad.
The buyback, the largest in the program's three years, drew more than 65 children the first hour. Doors opened at noon. Children were already lined up at 11:15 a.m. While they ranged in age, most were boys about eight or nine years old, Ms. Ransom said. And that, she believes, is the perfect audience.
Who are the ones dying "from weapons in the city?" she asked. "Young boys."
Young boys like Roman Brown, who is eight years old. His dad, Paul, brought him Saturday to trade in the guns. Roman carried with him a brown shopping bag full of eight plastic guns.
As he reached to sign the pledge not to play with toy guns any more, Ms. Jackson stopped him for a brief heart-to-heart.
"You know what it means when you sign your name?" she asked him.
"Don't ever use guns," Roman told her.
More than 20 volunteers helped with the buyback, including some from AmeriCorps. Among those donating their time were Lisa Lopez, 12, and Tierrah Jackson, 10, who said she was following in her grandmother's footsteps. They both decided to help because adults in their lives taught them the importance of setting a good example, they said.
"Things you do when you're younger affect things you do when you're older," said Tierrah. "I think this is the type of program that can help. Sometimes it's what you don't do that makes you who you are."