Atlanta’s police department is storing up to 10,000 confiscated firearms and refusing to give them back to their owners or sell them, in defiance of state law.
Deputy Police Chief Ericka Shields told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that her department has several thousand confiscated guns stored in a secret location.
The city’s mayor supports the police department.
“It’s very difficult for me to lead on this, because even in the state of Georgia, when we take illegal guns off the street, under Georgia state law right now, we actually have to return them or make them available to the public in some form,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told TV station CBS 46.
Reed was referring to Senate Bill 350, a state law that makes it illegal for local governments to destroy confiscated guns. That law obligates the city to return stolen guns to “innocent owners” and when not possible, to auction off confiscated weapons to the public. The police are refusing to do either one.
“We have an obligation to re-sell that, re-bid that, and get that to gun purchasers so they can re-sell those,” Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said
But Turner argued that doing so would be “catastrophic” to public safety.
“The city of Atlanta has not done that,” Turner said.
The authors of the bill say the city obviously is breaking the law.
“The law says what the law is. I don’t know how you go around that,” former state Senator Don Balfour, who wrote the law, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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The law, passed in 2012, requires that a city auction off guns every six months. Atlanta has not held any auctions. It also says: “If the lawful owner is not found or unable to take possession of the firearm, the law requires that municipalities shall not have the right to reject any and all bids or to cancel any proposed sale of such firearms, and all sales shall be to persons who are licensed as firearms collectors, dealers, importers, or manufacturers.”
Nationwide, the fate of confiscated guns varies widely from city to city and state to state. Some large cities including Chicago, New York and Los Angeles – as well as the US Department of Justice — destroy all confiscated guns. The Justice Department destroyed more than 90,000 firearms worth an estimated $24 million over the past 10 years, CNN Money reported.
Other jurisdictions destroy only certain weapons, such as defective or illegal guns and firearms used in violent crimes. Some law enforcement agencies sell guns to the public through auctions or sell them through federally licensed dealers. Some departments also distribute seized weapons to other law enforcement agencies.
Eleven states — Arizona, Montana, North Dakota, Kansas, Texas, Michigan, Louisiana, Tennessee, West Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina — have laws encouraging or requiring police to sell confiscated guns to the public, CNN Money said.
The NRA and other gun rights groups have threatened to sue cities that refuse to sell weapons as required by state law.
“Police destruction of firearms is unnecessary and wasteful,” NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter told CNN Money. “There is no reason any police department can’t resell those firearms to law-abiding citizens and use the money for any number of things — infrastructure, law enforcement training, equipment, etc.”
Police Chief Fred Fletcher of Chattanooga is one of many law enforcement leaders that disagree with the NRA on this issue. His fear is that guns could end up in the hands of the bad guys.
“My job is to keep my officers safe,” Fletcher said. “To send them out to face the same guns they risked their lives to get off the street is a big concern.”
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