Just when I thought I’d heard every possible crazy thing the gun lobby (or – ahem – firearms lobby, if you’re a stickler for correct terminology) has to say, the gun/firearms lobby comes along and out-crazies itself.
Take, for example, this story from NPR about Tucson, Arizona’s efforts to commemorate the second anniversary of the mass shooting that killed six and wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and twelve other innocent victims. “Churches and fire stations around the city rang bells in memory of the victims and in commemoration of other mass shootings since Tucson,” the story says, and “[t]he Tucson Police Department also held a gun buyback Tuesday.”
Nice, right. Civic minded, and all that.
But Arizona is Arizona, and crazy is crazy, and so you know that’s not the end of it. That gun buyback the story talks about? The kind of thing they do in other major American cities all the time? Lauded by politicians, law enforcement, church leaders, pillars of communities, etc.?
Police want to destroy the 206 firearms turned in to them. But the National Rifle Association says that would violate Arizona law.
“I’ve been getting threats,” [Republican Tucson City Councilman Steve] Kozachik says. “I’ve been getting emails. I’ve been getting phone calls in the office trying to shut this thing down or ‘We’re going to sue you’ or ‘Who do you think you are?’ ”
Todd Rathner, an Arizona lobbyist and a national board member of the NRA, may sue. He has no problem with the gun buyback, but he does have a problem with the fate of the guns once police take possession of them.
“We do believe that it is illegal for them to destroy those guns,” he says.
Rathner says Arizona state law forces local governments to sell seized or abandoned property to the highest bidder.
“If property has been abandoned to the police, then they are required by ARS 12-945 to sell it to a federally licensed firearms dealer, and that’s exactly what they should do,” he says.
First of all – Really? Really, NRA? You’ve so fetishized guns that you can’t stand to see the Tucson Police Department destroy them just to keep them off the streets?
There’s no honest to goodness legal principle at stake here; there’s just this bizarre notion that guns, unlike any other object, are too precious to be destroyed. Even if the guns’ owners don’t want them, somebody has to have them!
Let’s review. What Mr. Rathner is talking about is a part of the Arizona Revised Statutes that tells the police and other government agencies what to do with “unclaimed property” – Article 8 of Chapter 7 of Title 12 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, if you’re scoring at home. Those sections deal with “unclaimed property” that comes into the possession of a state agency in two circumstances: (a) “property that was used as evidence and that remains unclaimed in the hands of the agency, after final disposition of the cause in which so used, or that was seized by a peace officer as being used unlawfully or for an unlawful purpose and that was held unclaimed from the date of seizure, or that came into the hands of the agency as unclaimed or contraband”; or (b) “[f]ound property turned over to a state, county, city or town agency” by the individual who found it. ARS § 12-941(A), (B); see also ARS § 12-940(3), which defines “found property” to mean “recovered, lost or abandoned property that is turned over to a public agency where the owner may or may not be known and that is not classified as evidence.” The law provides that unclaimed property in the former category can be retained by the police if it would be useful to them, and that “found property” can be returned to the person who found it in certain circumstances, all after “a reasonable attempt to notify the owner,” if the owner is known, or, if the owner is unknown and the value exceeds $150, after publishing or posting “a notice containing a description of the property before the final disposal of the property.” ARS § 12-944.
Section 12-945, which is the particular section Mr. Rathner refers to in the NPR piece quoted above, provides as follows:
12-945. Sale of property
A. If after thirty days notice has been given the owner or person entitled to the property has not taken it away, the property may be sold. The proceeds shall be paid to the general fund of the jurisdiction from which the unclaimed property was received.
B. Notwithstanding subsection A of this section, if the property is a firearm, the court shall order the firearm to be sold to any business that is authorized to receive and dispose of the firearm under federal and state law and that shall sell the firearm to the public according to federal and state law, unless the firearm is otherwise prohibited from being sold under federal and state law. A law enforcement agency may trade a firearm that it has retained to a federal firearms licensed business for ammunition, weapons, equipment or other materials to be exclusively used for law enforcement purposes.
So, yes, Section 12-945(B) directs that any firearm that falls within the purview of Article 8 of Chapter 7 of Title 12 is “to be sold to any business that is authorized to receive and dispose of the firearm under federal and state law and that shall sell the firearm to the public according to federal and state law,” unless it is illegal to sell the weapon in question. But, as you can plainly see from the sections quoted above, firearms that come into police possession through a buyback – guns that are voluntarily surrendered to the police by their owners in exchange for Safeway gift cards – are not “unclaimed property” within the meaning of the statute. Guns turned into the police through a buyback program are not, to quote the language of Section 12-941, “property that was used as evidence” in a case; are not property “that was seized by a peace officer as being used unlawfully or for an unlawful purpose”; and are not property “that came into the hands of the agency as unclaimed or contraband”; nor are those guns “found property” within the meaning of Section 12-940.
Consequently, the section Mr. Rathner relies on just does not apply to a gun buyback program, and a simple reading of the law reveals that to be so. But that doesn’t stop him and the NRA from threatening to sue the city of Tucson and its police department to prevent them from destroying the 206 firearms turned in yesterday. Because god forbid the Tucson Police Department should want fewer guns on the streets.
People, the law is serious business. Any jackass can cite a code section in the hopes that nobody will take the time to read it. Only a professional jackass can tell you what the law actually means.