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Bill signed preventing Tucson from destroying 'buyback' guns

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Gov. Brewer

PHOENIX - 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.

Instead, the state law, which takes effect later this year, will require that any weapons that come into a city or county's possession must be sold off, with the profits used to bolster the local treasury.

Brewer's signature, which came late Monday without comment, was not a surprise. Since becoming governor in 2009, she had signed two other laws limiting the ability of cities and counties to destroy weapons.

There was strong lobbying for her to sign this law, as well: The Governor's Office reported Brewer got more than 1,900 pleas for her to sign the measure, in the form of emails, letters and calls.

That effort was organized by the Arizona Citizens Defense League, which sent out notices to people on its mailing list urging them to click on a link to send a letter to Brewer. Many of these appear to be the same basic form, said gubernatorial press aide Ann Dockendorff.

By contrast, she said, there were only 25 messages to Brewer urging her to veto the measure.

Brewer separately signed another bill Monday that spells out that local governments are strictly prohibited from keeping lists of people who own or otherwise possess firearms. That expands on existing laws that say cities cannot track buyers, sellers or others who transfer a gun.

At this point, there is no evidence any city is keeping such a list. But proponents said they want to be sure that government never gets a chance to compile one.

Only police "in the course of a law enforcement investigation" could have records of firearms ownership.

The gun-buyback provision, by contrast, does affect an existing practice. And its proponents made it clear they were looking to restrain Tucson and the loophole in current laws its attorneys claimed to have found.

Those prior laws - the ones Brewer signed - already require governments to sell weapons that have been seized. Those laws also cover "found property," which is defined as anything recovered, lost or abandoned that is not needed as evidence. The only exception is for weapons that are illegal, such as sawed-off shotguns.

Despite that, Tucson has taken the position it is able to obtain - and destroy - weapons given voluntarily to police. The most recent buyback, in January, resulted in the collection of 206 weapons, with owners given $50 Safeway gift cards.

This new law blocks that by adding the word "surrendered" to what is considered found property, meaning that it must be sold off.

Senate President Andy Biggs, a proponent of the legislation, said nothing in the law keeps the owner of a firearm from having it destroyed. The only difference, he said, is that this would have to be done privately, without involvement of municipal employees.

Weapons that do come into city possession are not auctioned off to the general public but instead must be sold to a federally licensed firearm dealer. And those dealers are required to conduct background checks before selling off a gun.

Opponents had sought to blunt the legislation with a proposal to allow communities to have buybacks if the owner of the weapon specifically says he or she wants it destroyed and there are no public funds involved.

But Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, said any weapons a city or county acquires are "assets" and should be sold off to help balance budgets.

No one from the Governor's Office would comment late Monday on Brewer's signatures.

But Brewer has consistently referred to herself as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. And the only gun-rights bills she has vetoed in her time in office have dealt with taking weapons onto school campuses and into public buildings.

She did, though, sign a measure four years ago letting Arizonans with concealed-weapons permits bring their firearms into bars and places where alcohol is served, as long as they promise not to drink.

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