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NRA Vows To Stop Tucson From Destroying Guns

Posted: January 9, 2013

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The Arizona city's gun buyback program is being challenged by the National Rifle Association. The gun rights group says it is illegal under the state's law to destroy the guns, and warned the city it will sue. Tucson officials say they are not violating the law.

Guns are piled inside a crate outside a police station in Tucson, Ariz., on Tuesday during a buyback. Tuesday marked the second anniversary of when a gunman opened fire on former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as she met with constituents in 2011, killing six people and leaving 12 others injured.

Guns are piled inside a crate outside a police station in Tucson, Ariz., on Tuesday during a buyback. Tuesday marked the second anniversary of when a gunman opened fire on former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as she met with constituents in 2011, killing six people and leaving 12 others injured. Brian Skoloff

Gun buyers inspect their purchases outside a police station in Tucson, Ariz., on Tuesday. About a dozen buyers offered cash to sellers in the parking lot of a police station where a city councilman had set up a gun buyback program.

Gun buyers inspect their purchases outside a police station in Tucson, Ariz., on Tuesday. About a dozen buyers offered cash to sellers in the parking lot of a police station where a city councilman had set up a gun buyback program. Matt York

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband, Mark Kelly, have formed a political action committee to support prevention of gun violence. The announcement came Tuesday, the second anniversary of the mass shooting in Tucson that left six dead and wounded 13, including Giffords.

Churches and fire stations around the city rang bells in memory of the victims and in commemoration of other mass shootings since Tucson.

The Tucson Police Department also held a gun buyback Tuesday. Police want to destroy the 206 firearms turned in to them. But the National Rifle Association says that would violate Arizona law.

A line of people with guns formed in front of the midtown Tucson police station well before the 9 a.m. starting time for the buyback.

At a command post in the parking lot, officers checked weapons to make sure they hadn't been stolen or used in a crime, and took the guns. The people who turned them in got a $50 Safeway gift card for every gun — money donated by the grocery chain and by private contributors.

Anna Jolivet had four old rifles she didn't want: "They belonged to my husband, and he passed away four years ago, and I haven't had any success in having someone take them off of me since then. So I thought this is a good time to turn them in."

That's exactly what Republican Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik expected when he asked the police to do the buyback. What he didn't expect was the response after he announced the event.

"I've been getting threats," Kozachik says. "I've been getting emails. I've been getting phone calls in the office trying to shut this thing down or 'We're going to sue you' or 'Who do you think you are?' "

Todd Rathner, an Arizona lobbyist and a national board member of the NRA, may sue. He has no problem with the gun buyback, but he does have a problem with the fate of the guns once police take possession of them.

"We do believe that it is illegal for them to destroy those guns," he says.

Rathner says Arizona state law forces local governments to sell seized or abandoned property to the highest bidder.

"If property has been abandoned to the police, then they are required by ARS 12-945 to sell it to a federally licensed firearms dealer, and that's exactly what they should do," he says.

That way, Rathner says, the guns can be put back in circulation or given away.

The Tucson city attorney calls that a misreading of the law.

Councilman Kozachik says the guns aren't being abandoned; they're being turned in voluntarily.

"This is about giving somebody the chance to say, 'Look I'm not comfortable having this weapon, here's an opportunity for me to just get rid of it in a proper manner,' " Kozachik says.

Rathner says the NRA will ask for an accounting of every weapon turned in and then go to court to stop the firearms from being destroyed. If that doesn't work, Rathner says they'll change the law.

"We just go back and we tweak it and tune it up, and we work with our friends in the Legislature and fix it so they can't do it," Rathner adds.

At the gun buyback, gun-rights advocates held signs reading "Cash For Guns" and "Pay Double for Your Guns." As cars pulled into the parking lot, they asked drivers if they wanted to sell their guns privately rather than turn them in. There were few takers.

Doug Deahn couldn't understand it: "Can't figure they'd rather line up and give them away. Can't figure that out."

What's to become of the weapons may still be unclear. But in the current political climate, this controversy seems to show that, in Arizona at least, it's tough for an owner to get rid of an unwanted gun.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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