PHOENIX - Phoenix police are in a race against time in processing guns that the city purchased at recent gun buyback events.

A new Arizona law that hasn't yet taken effect bars cities and counties from destroying guns turned over to police at buyback events and instead requires that the guns be resold.

The Arizona Republic reports that Phoenix's program brought in 979 weapons in two sessions earlier this month and an additional 937 guns on Saturday.

The law will go into effect 90 days after the legislative session ends, which could be any day. Police are already struggling to process the weapons in their possession, and the influx of an additional 937 guns will make it even more difficult to move the weapons through the system before the deadline.

That leaves the program's supporters facing the prospect of forcing police to sell the weapons they are now buying from the public.

Phoenix Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia said it will be difficult for police to process all the weapons acquired through the buyback, but investigators remain committed to the task.

"It's our goal to do all the weapons, without a doubt, but every weapon will be evaluated," he said. "Any weapon that comes through our system has to be evaluated from a physical and forensic standpoint."

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and the program's supporters are among a small group of Arizonans who are actually cheering for legislative inertia to continue at the state Capitol.

Processing each weapon includes checking the serial number to confirm the weapon was not reported stolen, and running the weapon's fired-cartridge casings or bullets through a database to determine whether similar evidence was recovered from any crime scenes.

It is the process of firing the weapon and running the bullets and casings through a national database that is most time consuming and potentially most valuable to investigators.

The Phoenix police gun-enforcement squad uses two machines to process the evidence. There are as many as 15 officers trained to compare the unique markings on fired-cartridge casings and bullets to those entered from other crime scenes. On average, investigators request tests on about 200 guns per month, Phoenix police Detective Neil Worden said.

Those requests are still coming in, Worden said, and investigators typically prioritize those with expedited requests to take precedent over weapons slated for destruction.

Phoenix police share the equipment with investigators from other law-enforcement agencies in metro Phoenix that sign up to use the machines when they are available.

The process, while painstaking, is beneficial.

Police in the past have linked casings from crime scenes to break open cases, including one that relied on the evidence to help convict four suspects of a 2006 Phoenix home invasion, an Ahwatukee Foothills murder, a Mesa drive-by shooting and a Tempe gun-waving incident.

Even if police cannot process the weapons before the legislation goes into effect, the success or failure of the gun-buyback program cannot be measured alone by the number of weapons destroyed, Stanton said.

The program also provided 100 gun locks in its first session, and organizers anticipated giving away just as many at this weekend's event, said Hildy Saizow, president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, the gun-violence-prevention group that helped coordinate the buyback with police, Stanton's office and faith-based organizations.

Local angle

More than 200 shotguns, rifles and handguns were exchanged for $50 Safeway Food Store gift cards at Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik's gun buyback event in January. On April 29, Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation aimed specifically at halting Tucson's practice of allowing police to destroy guns that people voluntarily surrender through buyback programs.

Source: Arizona Daily Star archives