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Arizona police grapple with law on confiscated guns

Arizona police grapple with law on confiscated gunsSome police agencies in Arizona are stockpiling weapons they used to scrap in response to a new state law designed to prohibit agencies from destroying weapons they confiscate.

The Arizona Republic reports that thousands of seized guns could be offered for sale or trade to licensed firearms dealers because of the new law and that some agencies are stockpiling weapons as they try to establish agreements with federally licensed firearms dealers that they can do business with.

The law that went into effect in early August was the result of a years-long effort to establish a uniform statewide police policy on the disposal of weapons collected through forfeiture cases in which the weapon is surrendered to authorities via a court order after the owner is convicted of a felony in which a deadly weapon was used.

State law previously attempted to mandate the sale of confiscated weapons, but it allowed Arizona cities and towns to turn their own police policies into municipal ordinances requiring the destruction of seized weapons.

Peoria police, who have confiscated 49 guns since the legislation took effect and believe that 28 of the weapons may be eligible to be sold, expect to begin selling forfeited weapons within the year.

Phoenix has collected more than 180 forfeited weapons since the law took effect, and police are storing them until city officials can find a vendor to whom the department can trade or sell the weapons.

Some current and former law-enforcement officers worry that the law forces police to put weapons back on the streets in communities where guns are already in abundant supply, and removes the latitude to make what should be a local decision.

Phoenix City Councilman Michael Johnson, a former police homicide detective whose district includes areas that have traditionally struggled with gun violence, said he wants Phoenix police to continue destroying weapons if that is what administrators believe is best.

“Certainly, from being a law-enforcement officer, and having the opportunity to investigate homicides and robberies and crimes involving the use of weapons, I’m just a firm believer that the more ability people have (to get a gun), the more opportunity it provides for them to have a violent encounter with a weapon,” Johnson said.

Arizona House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, a Democrat from Phoenix who voted against the proposal, said he plans to introduce a proposal to repeal the bill as part of a gun-violence package he will unveil later this week.

The Arizona Citizens Defense League, a nonprofit Tucson-based gun rights advocacy group that supported the measure, cites several reasons to support the notion that Arizona cities and towns cannot make their own decisions about the disposal of forfeited weapons.

The group’s spokesman, Charles Heller, said destroying perfectly good weapons is a waste of resources that could benefit taxpayers. He also noted that Arizona cities aren’t allowed to create their own ordinances when it comes to other weapons regulations.

Ultimately, destroying forfeited weapons does nothing to make a community safer, Heller said. “It’s a (self-gratifying) process, thinking if you take a gun out of circulation that isn’t being used, it will affect crime,” Heller said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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