Police in B.C. will begin collecting unauthorized and unwanted guns on Saturday, as part of a month-long firearms amnesty program they say will help remove guns from communities and reduce the risk they could fall into the hands of criminals.

RCMP Insp. Brad Haugli said officers often encounter cases in which tragedy could have been averted if guns were not involved.

"As someone who has lost a loved one to suicide by firearm, I know that devastation first-hand," Haugli said at a news conference on Thursday.

"I believe that tragedy that touched my family could have been prevented if the firearm had not been available."

Police said anyone wishing to surrender ammunition or weapons, including imitation or replica guns, should not transport the items themselves. Instead, they should contact their local police and arrange for officers to visit for a pick-up.

"Weapons that are in households that could be taken during a break and enter will find their ways to criminals to commit a crime," Haugli said. "So having those weapons turned in is one less weapon on the street."

Police also say the amnesty from prosecution relating to unlicensed or illegal weapons will not apply to any weapons that police find have been already used for a criminal purpose, although Haugli said he doesn't expect criminals to surrender their firearms.

"As someone who has lost a loved one to suicide by firearm, I know that devastation first-hand."—RCMP Insp. Brad Haugli

In B.C.'s 2006 amnesty program, police collected more than 96,500 rounds of ammunition; 3,213 handguns, rifles, and other firearms; an M-16 assault rifle; and a rocket launcher.

According to the RCMP, about 5.3 per cent of British Columbians have a firearms license, which is slightly below the national average of 5.7 per cent.

Antique gun collectors say they don't have a problem with the amnesty, but they are concerned those with antique firearms will turn in priceless relics they've either found or inherited because they're afraid of breaking the law.

with files from CBC's Dan Burritt