updated 7/15/2005 4:52:56 PM ET 2005-07-15T20:52:56

Soon after World War II, American sailor Bruno Filippelli walked into a Tokyo shop and bought a Japanese army rifle and a saber for two packs of Chesterfield cigarettes.

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Six decades later it was collecting dust in his closet. So last weekend, when police offered $75 Target gift cards to anyone who turned in a gun, Filippelli took it to the collection site.

That was almost a bad move.

A gun collector saw a photo of the Arisaka Type 99 pressure test rifle in The Palm Beach Post and told Filippelli the gun is a rarity worth thousands. He asked for it back, but the police originally said no. They planned to melt it down with the other 450 firearms collected or give it to a museum.

But after the Post ran a story Friday about the Delray Beach resident’s mistake, the police returned the gun.

“I think the publicity got too much for them,” said Filippelli, 79. “Or maybe because I’m a vet or maybe they felt sorry for me.”

He even got to keep the gift card, which he’ll use to buy a present for his daughter.

Fewer than 100 guns made
Police did not immediately return calls for comment Friday, but had said that returning the gun would have defeated the purpose of the buyback program, which was to get guns off the street.

Fewer than 100 of the rifles were ever produced and maybe 50 are left, including about 20 in the United States, according to gun experts and dealers. The type of rifle was never used in the field. It was designed to test the chamber pressure and bullet velocity for the Type 99 rifle, which Japanese forces used throughout World War II.

Bob Adams, a rare-gun collector in New Mexico, said Filippelli’s gun could be worth $5,000. He said police should have identified the gun as a pressure test rifle that would not be used in violent crimes and should have never accepted it.

“That gun is history, and destroying history does not help the street crime problem,” Adams said.

Filippelli said Friday that he plans to take his time before deciding what to do next with the gun, but will most likely give it to a museum. He said he was stunned to learn the gun is valuable.

“It’s like buying a picture that you don’t think is worth anything and it turns out to be a Rembrandt,” Filippelli said.

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