Arizona Law Puts Kibosh On Gun Buybacks In Phoenix

May 3, 2013 2:10 a.m.

City-sponsored gun buybacks are about to be a thing of the past in Arizona’s largest city.

On Monday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed a bill into law that spares guns turned in during government-run buybacks from being destroyed. Instead, the law requires the guns to be sold to licensed gun dealers.Now, a police official in Phoenix has told TPM that a series of buyback events scheduled to start Saturday will probably be the city’s last. Phoenix scheduled the buybacks following the December elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead. The last of the events, scheduled for May 18, will be held weeks before the ban goes into effect.

“Obviously a gun buyback event is an effort to reduce the amount of guns that are out in the community,” Phoenix police Sgt. Steve Martos told TPM. “And if we were to get involved in a gun buyback event and then resell those to an authorized dealer … [that] again might, you know, defeat the purpose.”

Martos said the police department still plans to have the guns destroyed, despite the spirit of the coming law. Guns that were stolen or are still needed for police investigations won’t be destroyed, he said.

Arizona has become something of a ground zero in the politicization of gun buybacks in recent months. In January, protestors showed up to a buyback event in Tucson, Ariz., that was being held on the second anniversary of the massacre that killed six people and wounded a dozen others, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D), there in 2011. The protestors objected to the fact that the city’s police department, and therefore taxpayer money, was being used to collect and destroy the unwanted guns.

Following the buyback, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature took up the protestors’ cause and crafted a bill banning the destruction of firearms in buybacks. It passed easily and was sent to Brewer for her signature.

The whole situation has caught Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) by surprise. The first-term mayor said he doesn’t understand how a voluntary program has become a politically loaded issue. Even five years ago, he said, there was little fuss over buybacks.

“You don’t politicize public safety,” Stanton said. “You let public safety decisions be made by law enforcement leaders. You just, you gotta, to the extent possible, keep politics out of police practice.”

Local law enforcement decisions should be left to local authorities, he said, not dictated by legislators at the capitol. He also said it was unfortunate that police will no longer be able to hold buybacks with the intention of destroying the guns.

Stanton said he spoke out against the buyback bill, and his office sent TPM a letter showing the city also asked Brewer to veto the legislation. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Hildy Saizow, president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, said the buyback bill was a product of the state legislature’s extreme stance on guns.

“They’re not in sync with the people, the citizens of Arizona,” she told TPM. “There’s a real disconnect between, clearly, what the polls show Arizonans want and what the legislature does when it comes to gun bills. This was a very extreme measure.”

She called Brewer’s signature disappointing but not surprising. Asked why she thought some people get worked up about destroying guns, Saizow said the pro-gun rights set sees firearms as a sort of holy grail. “It’s almost like a religion,” she said, “and to them it’s defacing their religion if you destroy them.”

Asked whether her group would be inclined to hold buybacks in the future just to see the weapons resold, she said, “Absolutely not. There’s no reason to put this kind of effort and energy, because it takes so long, if the guns are going right back onto the street.”

For now, city officials are focused on what they can do. The upcoming buyback could be the biggest the state has seen. An anonymous donation of $100,000 from a local resident financed this round of buybacks. Members of the public who turn in guns will receive gift cards for local grocery stores. Assault weapons are worth $200 per gun; handguns, shotguns and rifles are worth $100, according to a city press release. Because of the large donation, Stanton told TPM he expects thousands of guns to be turned in over the course of the month.

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