In 2005, the Tucson City Council passed an ordinance requiring that unclaimed or forfeited firearms, that were not used by the Tucson Police Department, or transferred to other police agencies, be destroyed. Destruction of firearms is an act of political theater designed to delegitimize firearms, branding them contraband. This political propaganda strikes at the heart of the Second Amendment.
In 2013, the State of Arizona banned the practice of destroying valuable property, particularly firearms. The firearms were to be returned through ordinary channels of legal commerce. The proceeds from the sale benefits the political entity selling the firearms.
The Tucson City Council ignored the state statute and destroyed about 4,800 legal firearms between 2013 and October, 2016. Firearms sold at auction by police routinely bring between $100 and $200. The value of the firearms destroyed was likely between $500,000 and $1,000,000. The processing cost of destruction is approximately the same as the cost of legal sale.
The Arizona legislature was not pleased with the scofflaw actions of the Tucson City Council. In 2016, they passed amendments to put teeth into the 2013 statute. It provided a procedure to gain compliance. Penalties are available if a political subunit of the state continued to defy the legislature by destroying valuable property.
The Tucson City Council continued to defy the law. The new procedure to bring the city into compliance was initiated. The city of Tucson agreed to stop destroying firearms until their claims of being exempt from state law were settled by the state supreme court.
Last Thursday, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the city of Tucson violated state law regarding the disposal of firearms. The Supreme Court unanimously demolished the city’s claims.
The city had argued that there was no evidence that the destruction of firearms created a gun shortage in Tucson, illustrating that the destruction of firearms was purely for symbolic purposes, not as a way to reduce crime.
The primary issue we address here is whether the state may constitutionally prohibit a city’s practice, prescribed by local ordinance, of destroying firearms that the city obtains through forfeiture or as unclaimed property.
We conclude that a generally applicable state statute on this subject controls over a conflicting municipal ordinance, that the legislature may require the Attorney General to investigate and file a special action in this Court regarding alleged violations of the state law, and that this Court has mandatory jurisdiction to resolve whether the allegedly conflicting ordinance violates state law. Applying those principles here, we accept jurisdiction of the State’s special action and hold, in accordance with article 13, section 2 of the Arizona Constitution, that A.R.S. §§ 12-945(B) and 13-3108(F) supersede Tucson Code §2142
The Arizona State Supreme Court required the city to pay the reasonable legal fees of the state of Arizona in this case.
Several states have enacted similar statutes to prevent the wastage of valuable assets by political entities. Cities are allowed to hold or fund gun turn-in events if they wish; but the guns collected must be returned to legal channels of commerce for the benefit of the public.
When the Arizona statute was passed in 2013, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton was committed to destroying nearly 2,000 firearms that had been turned in to police. The program had been deceptively labeled a “buy back.” Governments cannot “buy back” items that they never owned. Mayor Stanton committed 10 thousand dollars of police overtime money to ensure the firearms were destroyed.
It’s unclear how the destruction of guns turned in to police benefits anyone other than gun manufacturers. Except for sentimental value, historical and collectible appeal, the guns are easily replaced by newly manufactured guns. The demand for guns is not lowered by destroying turned in guns. They are merely replaced by newly made guns, with the profits benefiting gun manufacturers.
The Arizona supreme court decision was as expected. Cities may not set themselves up as independent city-states, ready, willing and able to defy state law.
©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.