Saying it’s none of the government’s business, a House panel voted Wednesday to bar cities, counties and the state from destroying guns that are voluntarily surrendered to them.
Backers of HB 2455 say the legislation simply reaffirms what they believe is existing law. That requires governments to sell any weapon that has been seized.
But it also applies the same restriction to any “found property.” And that is defined as anything recovered, lost or abandoned that is not needed as evidence.
Dave Kopp of the Arizona Citizens Defense League said that, by definition, should include any property turned over to a government agency. But he said that some communities have decided not to interpret the law that way.
“Some lawyers decided that ‘abandoned’ did not mean `abandoned,’” he told members of the House Committee on Public Safety, Military and Regulatory Affairs. This legislation precludes such an interpretation by adding the word “surrendered” to the list of what weapons cannot be destroyed.
The 5-3 vote came over the objections of Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who was the victim of an attacker with a gun at a 1997 board meeting.
“In my time of elective office I have held three major gun buybacks,’’ she told lawmakers. “And I have taken over 650 guns off the street, particularly in Phoenix.’’
She said it’s not like government is mandating that people turn in their weapons.
“The people who come to these gun buybacks are people who are family members who have children who are coming of an age where they do not want the guns in the home any more, people who feel that their young adolescent children may be tempted to take that gun into the street,” Wilcox said. She specifically mentioned a man coming in with his son to turn in an AK-47 assault rifle.
“They looked at me, they looked at the police officers and said, ‘We need to take this out of everybody’s hands,’” she said.
Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa, did not dispute that gun owners are entitled to decide to scrap their weapons. He questioned why it should be the business of public employees to do that.
And Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said there are other options.
“If they don’t like the law that says we’re requiring it to be sold they don’t have to take it to the government,’’ he said. “It can be split in half, easily, by any kind of mechanic, anybody that has any kind of tools.’’
But Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said it’s a public service, no different than when government agencies have collections — at public expenses — to collect old furniture and appliances or even to pick up old prescriptions rather than having people dump them down the drain.
Gary Christensen of the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association, the local chapter of the National Rifle Association, said government resources are being wasted, and not only in the time and effort of collecting and destroying the weapons.
“This is a valuable asset that the city has come in possession of,” he said, no different than cars, boats and houses that are seized as part of criminal investigations that are required to either be used for law enforcement purposes or sold off.
“That money goes back to help fund programs that we depend on, including the police departments, that are trying to make the streets safe,” Christensen said.
He said that at one time Apache Junction destroyed about $140,000 worth of weapons.
“And yet, at the same time, they were asking taxpayer to provide tax funds to finance operations of their government,’’ Christensen said. “And so that’s a contradiction.’’
Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron, said while those promoting gun rights have people come to the Capitol “the regular everyday citizen on the street doesn’t have a lobbyist to speak for them.’’
“When they surrender their weapon it’s under the assumption it will be destroyed,’’ she said, disagreeing with Kopp’s assertion that the law already requires police to sell these. “It’s not abandoned, it’s surrendered.’’
Gallego asked Kopp if he would object to letting people, of their own volition, ask government to destroy their guns if there were absolutely no cost to the public. Kopp said he could agree if that were truly the case.
Pierce said that’s an impossibility.
“I can’t imagine a scenario in which an employee of the government is asked to do something, that it’s not a cost to the taxpayer,’’ he said.
And Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, suggested, through a question to Kopp, he believes it is better use of a police officer’s time to be “out on the street doing his job, 9 to 5’’ rather than overseeing a buyback program.
The measure now goes to the full House after it clears the Rules Committee.