Drop your gun: French hand over their unlicensed weapons to police

By Eric Gaillard

NICE, France, Dec 1 (Reuters) - French gun owners were handing over their weapons at police collection points across the country this week as part of a campaign to round up unlicensed firearms, often heirlooms lying in attics or forgotten at the back of cupboards.

Gun ownership in France is nowhere near as prevalent as in the United States, for instance, and gun crimes are relatively rare, but France is keen to limit the number of illegally owned firearms - as many as six million, authorities estimate.

"They were my dad's and I didn't know what do with them," Lionel said at a police station in Nice in southern France where he handed over his weapons. "I don't really like guns, and since there's a way to get rid of them cleanly, there's a moment you have to get rid of such souvenirs."

Rifles, handguns, ammunition, even knives and grenades, have been handed in at 300 collection points across France since the start of the Ministry of Interior's campaign on Nov. 25.

Those who bring in the weapons face no penalties. They can either have them registered or leave them with the police.

By Wednesday, 65,000 firearms had been turned in, along with 1.6 million bullets and other projectiles.

"This campaign is here to help French people surrender these objects that are rather cumbersome for most," police commandant Florence Gavello said at the collection point in Nice.

"When we talk to them, they're quite happy about ... getting rid of them."

The campaign ends on Friday, after which collected weapons will either be handed over to museums or destroyed. (Writing by Manuel Ausloos; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Nick Macfie)