PHOENIX - The state House voted Thursday to slam the door on gun "buyback" programs, even when the owners specifically ask that their weapons be destroyed.
Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, said HB 2455 simply clarifies existing laws that require governments to sell any weapons that have been seized. The law also covers "found property," which is defined as anything recovered, lost or abandoned that is not needed as evidence.
But that has not stopped several communities from continuing their programs, saying they remain able to obtain - and destroy - weapons given voluntarily to police. This legislation, approved on a 36-23 margin, blocks that by adding the word "surrendered" to what is considered found and therefore must be sold off.
The Republican-controlled House even rejected a proposal to allow communities to have buybacks if there are no public funds involved, and even if the owner of the weapon specifically says he or she wants it destroyed.
Barton said that misses the point. She said any weapons that a city or county acquire are "assets" and should be sold off to help balance budgets.
Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa, said there's no reason for government to get involved. He said anyone who wants to destroy a weapon remains free to give or sell it to any private company.
The measure, which now goes to the Senate, would put a halt to the programs run by several cities in which individuals are encouraged to turn in weapons they no longer want, or want out of their homes.
Some are run strictly as drop-off locations. And some provide an incentive of sorts, with merchants providing gift cards as partial compensation. Either way, the weapons are destroyed.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, who pushed the unsuccessful bid for an opt-in voluntary destruction program, said he believes removing some guns from the street can reduce violence. Pierce disagreed.
"The reality is we have no hard evidence that tells us criminals are the ones that are bringing these guns to these sort of programs in order to have their guns taken off the street," he said. And Pierce said requiring the sale of these guns actually promotes public safety.
He said the law requires that cities sell their guns only to federally licensed firearms dealers. And they, in turn, are required to conduct background checks on any prospective purchasers.
"What this is doing is taking guns that come into a municipality's possession and putting them in the hands of responsible people," Pierce said.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said lawmakers should stay out of what is a matter best left to local officials and police officers.
"They need to make the decisions that are best for their community, not us," he said. "We should not be forcing our opinion on our local governments and forcing our local law enforcement agencies."
Campbell chided supporters of the legislation for claiming it protects Second Amendment rights.
"If a firearm owner willingly wants to turn in their gun, that's actually their right under the Second Amendment," he said.
Gallego said police need to be involved so they can check whether the weapons are connected with any crimes.
Gallego tried to add an exemption for Pima County, "one county that's particularly been affected by gun violence." That also was beaten back by the GOP majority.
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