Last month's destruction of hundreds of guns turned in at a city buyback event may be the last.
A gun-rights group is pressing the Legislature to block municipalities from destroying guns voluntarily turned in to police departments.
The Arizona Citizens Defense League requested a change in the law adding guns "surrendered" willfully by the owner to the list of firearms police departments must recirculate back into the market.
The law now requires police departments to sell confiscated or found guns to a licensed dealer, once they ensure the firearms weren't stolen or needed for evidence.
Defense league Communications Director Charles Heller said it is important to clarify the law so cities can't circumvent it, as he believes TPD did in early January, when it destroyed more than 200 guns collected during the buyback.
"It's already in the law. The problem is they're misconstruing the law. So we're changing the words so their perfidy is made very clear," Heller said.
Heller said if another "buy-up" occurs, the new language would make it clear the weapons must be sold to a licensed dealer.
"What that does is, it takes them out of the hands of a person who doesn't want it, and puts it in the legitimate hands of someone who does," Heller said.
Councilman Steve Kozachik said the bill underscores an inconsistency among folks who would normally champion property rights.
"This bill clearly illustrates that some people don't view guns like toasters. When it comes to guns, it's as though they hold some magical or sacred designation in their lives," Kozachik said. "They go around proclaiming to be for private property, but civil liberties are out the window when it comes to guns. I guess the message is, we can't do what we want with our property in this state if that property is a firearm."
This isn't about individual rights, Heller said, but the role of government.
Heller said the purpose of government as defined by Arizona's Constitution is to protect people's rights, not destroy firearms.
"It's not the purpose of government," he said. "It's an abuse of the intent of government and it's an abuse of power."
That the law doesn't have any penalties associated with it is a tactical move.
"We'd love to see anybody that destroys a gun at the city get arrested, but we don't think that would pass the Legislature," Heller said. "It'd be nice if it did."
Other supporters of the measure say gun laws should be the sole purview of the state, not a mixed bag of local ordinances. Also, why would anyone want to damage a working gun?
"Since we firmly believe that the cities have no business regulating firearms in any way, the NRA and the ASRPA (Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association) both support the bill," Todd Rathner, lobbyist for the state organization and a national board member of the National Rifle Association, wrote in an email. "And we believe that this is a good first step toward stopping cities in Arizona from destroying perfectly good firearms."
Even though 17 representatives lined up to sponsor the bill, not everyone is sure the its future is a fait accompli.
Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild predicted it won't find enough support to pass after a recent visit to the state Capitol.
"I spent the day at the state Legislature with leadership and a number of senators and representatives," discussing a wide range of topics, Rothschild said in an email. "No one, once, all day, mentioned guns, or gun legislation, he said, expressing hope that means the Legislature will "honor their stated belief in local control on issues like gun buybacks."
Kozachik was less optimistic, saying: "The majority in the Legislature can't stop embarrassing themselves and the state. They drop bills that are solutions looking for a problem, don't have a prayer of passing, and if they did, they would serve no useful public purpose."
He pointed out that at the same time the Legislature is moving to assert that states' rights trump federal law on gun issues, some members are intent on usurping control at the local level.
The practical impact of the law is unclear. No more gun buybacks are planned, and TPD spokeswoman Sgt. Maria Hawke said the department doesn't currently tally or track other guns that are voluntarily turned in.
She said they are logged into evidence under the classification of "safekeeping," which is similar to guns found by officers or citizens and turned in to the evidence section.
Hawke said once those guns are cleared, they are turned over to a local company TPD contracts with where the guns are destroyed. She said she couldn't reveal the company's information for security reasons.
The Pima County Sheriff's Department has a similar experience.
Deputy Tom Peine, a spokesman, said while he didn't have exact numbers, he could confirm his department receives only a small amount of guns voluntarily turned in each year.
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Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org