You may recall a few years ago the City held a oddly named “Gun Buyback” event, oddly named since the City of Tucson did not sell the guns in the first place. During the one-day event, people were encouraged to trade any firearm for a $50 Safeway gift card with “no questions asked.” It was a strange activity for the city since it was providing a service that is already available in the private sector; anyone can take a gun to a gunshop and sell it to the licensed dealer. Unlike the licensed dealer, however, the “no questions asked” caveat made clear that the city was willing to act as a fence for stolen property.
Currently there are no plans for more “buyback” events, but a related controversy has arisen. The City of Tucson is having most firearms it acquires destroyed. There is apparently no good reason for this beyond the propaganda value of generally vilifying weapons. Some say that “putting them back on the street” makes Tucson a more dangerous place; or, to put a finer point on the same idea, some of these guns have been used in crimes and if they were set free would no doubt continue their criminal rampage.
Let’s ignore the kind of creepy superstitious thinking behind this policy and look at the reality of the situation. These guns are consumer items that are sold every day all over Tucson. There are around 200 licensed firearms dealers in greater Tucson. The number of guns in Tucson will be determined by the local market, not by how many are destroyed by the City of Tucson.
Regarding the bad “crime guns,” perhaps with a little counseling, these “crime guns” might be willing to sign a contract agreeing to practice lawful behavior in the future and then they could be released to the streets.
I hope that the Tucson City Council does not decide that it dislikes other items that come its way. I would hate to see them stop auctioning off recovered bicycles and chop them up instead. Or do an Auric Goldfinger number on “crime cars.” Yikes!
I mentioned that Tucson is having most of the guns destroyed. The City apparently likes rifles and shotguns that are not semi-automatic; those it will sell. It’s those nasty handguns and semi-autos that need to be destroyed. It is trendy today to view bolt action and pump action rifles and shotguns as good guns, while handguns and anything semi-automatic are the bad guns. This is based on fashion more than fact. Is a .22LR target pistol mare effective in combat than a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun? The correct answer is that it depends on who is on the trigger, not some aspects of the firearm's functioning.
By the way, If you want to get a libertarian to see red, tell him that the scary guns can be picked up by law enforcement, if it wants them, but must be destroyed rather than end up in the hands of a citizen. Yes, such is the case with the city’s destruction program. If the police are the good guys, and it’s alright for them to use the bad guns, how bad can those guns really be? If the law abiding citizenry and the police are on the same side and in partnership, then they can have the same tools.
So now the Attorney General of Arizona is seeking a clarification from the court on whether the City’s program is legal. Along with ten other states, Arizona has passed into law legislation that discourages this sort of wasteful and destructive behavior. If Tucson continues to destroy guns, then the state will withhold a heap big chunk of state shared revenue. Tens of millions of dollars are at stake. Tucson believes the law to be invalid and has taken the state to court as well.
There are a few interesting legal questions. Is the program a strictly local issue and therefore under the authority of the cities? Do charter cities (Tucson is one) have authority in this area while others do not? Is it an issue of firearm regulation for which the state has preemptive authority? We may find out the hard way. Let’s hope that members of the Tucson City Council experience a few lucid moments and not go to war with the state on this. There has been more than enough stupidity already in this regard.
Jonathan Hoffman is the Weekly's libertarian columnist.