Gun buyback programs likely to end in Phoenix, Tucson

Ben Giles//May 2, 2013

Gun buyback programs likely to end in Phoenix, Tucson

Ben Giles//May 2, 2013

Arizona police grapple with law on confiscated gunsOfficials in Phoenix and Tucson say it’s no longer viable to organize gun buyback programs now that a state law will require the guns to be sold back into circulation, not destroyed.

Gov. Jan Brewer signed HB2455 on April 29, which closes a loophole in a 2012 gun-rights bill that strengthened a 2010 law requiring firearms seized by police be sold to licensed firearms dealers. They in turn would sell the weapons in whole or as parts back into circulation.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Brenda Barton,

R-Payson, clarifies that cities, towns and police departments can’t destroy guns that aren’t technically seized. In honor of the second anniversary of the deadly shooting at a Tucson Safeway that left six dead and 13 wounded, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Tucson organized a gun buyback program to offer citizens a way to anonymously turn over their unwanted firearms to police.

The distinction between a seized and relinquished firearm gave local officials the latitude to destroy the weapons. But that drew the ire of GOP lawmakers such as Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria, who testified on the Senate floor that destroying guns was not only a waste of taxpayer dollars, but a waste of a valuable resource for Arizona: firearms.

“In my world, a community asset is a city park, not a gun,” said Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachik, who helped organize Tucson’s gun buyback programon Jan. 8. “I feel as though what the state did was hypocritical from the standpoint of civil liberties,” Kozachik said.  “These right-wing guys are big on private property rights… but when it comes to a gun, they call it a community asset.”

Kozachick said he’s in no rush to try to organize another gun buyback program now that the law is passed.  And neither are officials in Phoenix, where three gun buyback programs are scheduled before the new law takes effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns sine die.

“If the law requires us to sell guns, it might be counterproductive for us to buy guns and turn around and sell them,” said Sgt. Steve Martos, spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department. “That doesn’t make sense.”

On May 4, Phoenix officials are offering $100 for handguns, shotguns and rifles and $200 for automatic weapons, which can be turned over anonymously and will be inspected by police. If a gun reported missing is identified, police will try to return it to the owner, Martos said. Police will also try to identify guns used in a crime to keep as evidence. Otherwise, the firearms will be destroyed.

The program is funded by an anonymous

$100,000 donation, and was organized by Arizonans for Gun Safety.

Democrats were optimistic that there’s still some wiggle room left for private organizations to organize their own gun buyback programs that would allow for the destruction of guns, and some lawmakers said they’d be happy to help as much as they can, within the confines of the law.

“All the Legislature just did is say a jurisdiction can’t midwife the destruction of a gun,” Kozachik said. “They can’t tell a private person what they can do with their own private property.”

Perhaps there’s a way for an organization with intent to destroy guns to register as a licensed firearms dealer, said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.

“If the people of Phoenix and Tucson want this, and I’ve heard from my constituents that they do, then I think that the private sector will potentially find a way to do this,” Farley said at a press conference April 30.

But without police involvement, investigators lose the benefit of inspecting each firearm to find potential evidence, Martos said. Perhaps there is a way for a private organization to allow police to inspect firearms the organization collects, but that’s a legally gray area that police have not yet explored, Martos said.

Hildy Saizow, president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, said she’s hopeful her organization and others can find a way to continue operating gun buyback programs in the future, perhaps with some police presence.

“We’ll just have to explore it and obviously we’ll have to get some lawyers to see how we can stay within the law and also make it a successful program,” Saizow said.

And hopefully, Farley said, lawmakers at the Capitol will find a way to stand up to any efforts next year to further neuter efforts to destroy guns by enacting even more laws protecting firearms.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that of all the things we could have done to make our citizens safer, this is the first bill on guns that’s gone through,” Farley said. “It would have been a vast improvement to repeal the bill from last year rather than strengthen it.”