PHOENIX - A House panel voted Wednesday to bar cities, counties and the state from destroying guns that are voluntarily surrendered to them, as was done with hundreds of firearms turned in at a Tucson gun buyback last month.
Backers of HB 2455 say the legislation simply reaffirms what they believe is existing law. That requires governments to sell any weapon that has been seized. The law applies the same restriction to any "found property," which it defines as anything recovered, lost or abandoned that is not needed as evidence.
Dave Kopp of the Arizona Citizens Defense League said that, by definition, should include any property turned over to a government agency. But, he added, some communities have decided not to interpret the law that way.
"Some lawyers decided that 'abandoned' did not mean 'abandoned,' " he told members of the House Committee on Public Safety, Military and Regulatory Affairs. The legislation precludes such an interpretation by adding the word "surrendered" to the list of what weapons cannot be destroyed.
Kopp's organization began pressing the Legislature to expand the definition of what can't be destroyed after the Tucson event.
The 5-3 vote came over the objections of Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who was the victim of an attacker with a gun at a 1997 board meeting.
"In my time of elective office, I have held three major gun buybacks," she told lawmakers. "And I have taken over 650 guns off the street, particularly in Phoenix."
She said it's not like government is mandating that people turn in their weapons.
She specifically mentioned a man coming in with his son to turn in an AK-47 assault rifle. "They looked at me, they looked at the police officers and said, 'We need to take this out of everybody's hands,' " she said.
Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa, did not dispute that gun owners are entitled to decide to scrap their weapons but questioned why local governments should be involved.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said there are other options, including owners destroying the weapon themselves.
But Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said it's a public service, no different from when government agencies collect old furniture and appliances, or even pick up old prescriptions rather than have people dump them down the drain.
Gary Christensen of the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association, the local chapter of the National Rifle Association, said government resources are being wasted, and not only in the time and effort of collecting and destroying the weapons.
"This is a valuable asset that the city has come in possession of," he said, no different from cars, boats and houses that are seized as part of criminal investigations and must be used for law-enforcement purposes or sold off.
"That money goes back to help fund programs that we depend on, including the police departments, that are trying to make the streets safe," Christensen said.
Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron, said while those promoting gun rights have people to come to the Capitol, "the regular, everyday citizen on the street doesn't have a lobbyist to speak for them."
"When they surrender their weapon, it's under the assumption it will be destroyed," she said, disagreeing with Kopp's assertion that the law already requires police to sell these. "It's not abandoned; it's surrendered."
The measure now goes to the full House after it clears the Rules Committee.
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