The months since the deadly Connecticut school shooting have seen dozens of gun buyback events across the country, with officials getting thousands of unwanted firearms off the street and sending them off to their destruction.
In Arizona, however, the Republican-controlled Legislature is now moving to save such guns.
Prompted by a gun buyback event in January in Tucson, where a 2011 shooting rampage left six dead and wounded then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others, GOP lawmakers crafted a bill that would require local agencies to sell the firearms to gun dealers. The bill, which has passed both chambers of the Legislature, tightens a 2010 law that requires police to sell seized weapons.
Dozens of buybacks have been held this year in states from New Jersey to California, with the efforts kick-started by recent shootings that include the massacre of 20 students and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
They’re popular among some police and elected officials who either pay cash or hand out gift cards in exchange for unwanted weapons. They’re then destroyed, and officials say the guns are kept out of the hands of children or thieves.
The Tucson event was championed by City Councilman Steve Kozachik. The council there has voted to adopt ordinances that make it illegal to fire a gun while drunk, required background checks at gun shows on city property and mandated that lost or stolen guns be reported to police.
Kozachik is angry at the Legislature for pushing the bill that essentially guts cities’ efforts to get guns off the streets.
“To me it’s just more hypocrisy from the right,” Kozachik said. “They’re big civil libertarians when it comes to anybody’s personal property until it becomes a gun that we’re talking about. And then it becomes a community asset.”
Democrats failed to keep the bill from passing the Senate Tuesday after an impassioned debate where Giffords’ name was raised, and it’s now headed to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk for action. Brewer has not said whether she would sign it, but she’s a strong gun-rights supporter and had signed the 2010 law.
Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, a Democrat who champions the events and survived being shot in the buttocks at the end of a 1997 Board meeting, sent a letter to Brewer Wednesday afternoon urging a veto.
The bill “would force the resale of guns that would otherwise never have been used for violence,” she wrote. “How many lives would be lost through the use of weapons our citizens hoped to be removed from the hands of criminals?”
During the Senate debate, Republicans argued that guns should not be singled out for destruction when other property that comes into the hands of governments isn’t.
“This bill doesn’t really deal with guns per se, it deals with valuable property owned by the taxpayers that is being destroyed instead of being utilized for the benefit of those taxpayers,” said GOP Sen. Rick Murphy, a co-sponsor of House Bill 2455. “What this comes down to it’s not appropriate to tell taxpayers that they must subside with their dollars the destruction of useful property with no good reason, to accomplish nothing other than to make people feel good.”
Democrats pushed back, arguing that the bill was all about guns and not property.
“It’s deeply disturbing to me that (after) all that has happened to Arizona and to this country in the last couple years that this is the kind of bill that gets a fast track,” said Sen. Steve Farley, who represents Tucson. “The gun doesn’t have the power to go commit new crimes like that, the person has that. But guns do have powerful symbolic power when they are used in heinous crimes. So why are we making this statement here?”
Gun buybacks are highly visible events, embraced by many. But they have also drawn criticism. The event Kozachik sponsored was criticized by gun rights proponents as ineffective. They set up tables to pay cash for guns.
There is research showing that such events don’t have much impact, said Michael Scott, a University of Wisconsin Law School professor who is director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing.
“The main reason that’s the case is that most gun buybacks tend to yield guns that are highly unlikely to be used in crimes,” including old, broken or worn-out firearms, he said.
There may be a small decrease in accidents, but criminals don’t usually use such guns, he said.
Also, because people are paid for the weapons, they could turn around and buy more weapons. Plus, with an estimated 300 million guns in the U.S., there’s just too many for small efforts like buybacks to make a dent, Scott said.
“There’s just so many guns in private hands in the country that collecting a relative few of them at any one time is not going to have a big impact on their availability,” he said.