Under Michigan law, the Michigan State Police (MSP) are required to publish a list of the firearms that they intend to dispose of each month. Agencies in Michigan are required to turn over to the State Police firearms that have been forfeited or confiscated from prohibited possessors . . .
The firearms are checked to see if they have been reported stolen. If they have not been reported stolen, the MSP are required to dispose of them. Before they are disposed of, the list of firearms has to be published each month. Owners of the firearms have 30 days to contact the police to recover their property. I doubt if many do so; if they have not been listed as stolen, the chances of the owner checking the State Police list each month to determine if their firearm shows up seems vanishingly small.
The MSP have the choice to dispose of the firearms by sale or to destroy them. They have been choosing to destroy them, likely for political reasons and bureaucratic inertia. It is hard to see why they would avoid selling them at auction.
There are 298 firearms listed to be destroyed after June 1, 2016. Many are inexpensive. Many are not. They run the gamut from a Webley and Scott 12 gauge shotgun to a Butler .22. The Webley and Scott Shotgun is potentially worth thousands; the Butler .22, maybe $50. Most of them are pistols, 225 of them.There are 39 shotguns and 34 rifles. The list is changed each month.
At auction, confiscated firearms average between $100 and $200 to dealers. It is likely that the Michigan public treasury would gain about $150 per firearm, or about $44,700 for the firearms to be destroyed in the month of June. It is unknown how much the police have to pay to have the firearms destroyed; no doubt they require a paper trail to be sure that none are diverted prior to destruction. That cost would roughly cancel out the cost of having the firearms auctioned.
The police run no risk of liability if they auction off the firearms. Under Michigan law, they are immune from liability for the disposal of the firearms. From the relevant Michigan code 750.239:
750.239 Forfeiture of weapons; disposal; immunity from civil liability.
(1) Except as provided in subsection (2) and subject to section 239a, all pistols, weapons, or devices carried, possessed, or used contrary to this chapter are forfeited to the state and shall be turned over to the department of state police for disposition as determined appropriate by the director of the department of state police or his or her designated representative.
(2) The director of the department of state police shall dispose of firearms under this section by 1 of the following methods:
(a) By conducting a public auction in which firearms received under this section may be purchased at a sale conducted in compliance with section 4708 of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 236, MCL 600.4708, by individuals authorized by law to possess those firearms.
(b) By destroying them.
(c) By any other lawful manner prescribed by the director of the department of state police.
(3) Before disposing of a firearm under this section, the director of the department of state police shall do both of the following:
(a) Determine through the law enforcement information network whether the firearm has been reported lost or stolen. If the firearm has been reported lost or stolen and the name and address of the owner can be determined, the director of the department of state police shall provide 30 days’ written notice of his or her intent to dispose of the firearm under this section to the owner, and allow the owner to claim the firearm within that 30-day period if he or she is authorized to possess the firearm.
(b) Provide 30 days’ notice to the public on the department of state police website of his or her intent to dispose of the firearm under this section. The notice shall include a description of the firearm and shall state the firearm’s serial number, if the serial number can be determined. The department of state police shall allow the owner of the firearm to claim the firearm within that 30-day period if he or she is authorized to possess the firearm. The 30-day period required under this subdivision is in addition to the 30-day period required under subdivision (a).
(4) The department of state police is immune from civil liability for disposing of a firearm in compliance with this section.
The laws were originally written during the progressive era, at about the same time that registration of pistols was required and short barrelled shotguns and rifles were made illegal. The laws were modified in 2010. Disposal requirements are essentially the same under 750.239 (1931) and 28.434 (1927).
So why do the Michigan State Police destroy tens of thousands of dollars worth of firearms each month, perhaps as much as half a million dollars each year?
I talked to a source at the MSP. A number of agencies in the state are selling the firearms that they wish to dispose of, and using the money to buy new equipment. A majority of the firearms received by the MSP are in poor shape. The numbers received each month vary considerably, and are not predictable. As many as 1500 have been received in one month. At least one high dollar collectable firearm, worth five to ten thousands dollars, was taken taken off the destruction list. Numerous WWII “bring back” guns such as P38 and Luger pistols are destroyed.
Almost no firearms are returned to owners once they are on the list. As expected, the firearms should be checked by the agency that collected them. Occasionally, a mistake is made, and a firearm that was stolen ends up at the MSP. The original agency is contacted to determine what the disposal action should be. If there is a legal question, the firearm is sent back to the original agency. The MSP do not return firearms; they have the original agency handle that.
Some time in the past, an attempt was made to research an auction system, but was quietly quashed by someone in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy or political structure. The procedure to destroy the firearms is at least from the 1950s, if not older, so there is considerable bureaucratic inertia to continue doing what they have always done.
The procedure is unlikely to change unless change unless public pressure forces them to do so.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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