Gun disposal law takes effect

By Scott Mooneyham | Sep 16, 2013


RALEIGH -- The North Carolina General Assembly has never teemed with former law enforcement officers.

I suppose, after working for years in a profession where your life is literally on the line, most retired cops have little desire to face the figurative fire of holding public office. It also is not a profession where anyone gets rich, and running for political office can be an expensive proposition.

Still, the late Don East, who served in the state Senate for more than decade, had been a Winston-Salem police officer for 20 years. The late Ed Jones, who served terms in the House and Senate, was a 30-year veteran of the State Highway Patrol and had been police chief of Enfield.

Former state Rep. Joe Kiser had been sheriff of Lincoln County before spending more than a decade in the state House. Another former sheriff, Union County's Frank McGuirt, had a few years in the House after he retired.

One wonders what any of the four -- two Republicans and two Democrats -- might have thought about legislation approved, in bipartisan fashion, by the General Assembly that sets new rules for how law enforcement agencies get rid of guns confiscated in criminal investigations or found and unclaimed by their owners.

The law, which took effect Sept. 1, requires that functioning firearms either be sold at public auctions, used for training purposes, or transferred to a museum. Only those found to be unsafe or without legible serial numbers can be destroyed.

In the past, law enforcement agencies had the option to sell guns, but many chose to have county sheriffs destroy them instead.

A lot of police and sheriff's departments are only now figuring out how they are going to comply with the new law.

Some law enforcement leaders say the change is good and will allow them to have another source of money to pay for expenses, echoing the comments of legislators who promoted the change.

Others are less sure, saying that they will be forced to create new procedures and have yet to figure out exactly how they will work.

Jeff Welty, a criminal law expert at the UNC School of Government, has predicted that the law could leave some guns in legal limbo, citing those seized from someone subsequently convicted of a felony that disqualifies them from owning guns.

In that case, local law enforcement could not benefit from selling the guns. The state constitution requires that forfeitures, which is what guns seized as the result of a criminal case become, benefit the public schools.

But how much time and money is a local law enforcement agency going to throw at the process of having a federally-registered firearms dealer sell a gun at auction without any financial benefit to the agency?

The bottom line here is really simple: Who knows best how to handle seized firearms, the police and sheriffs who have been doing it for years or state legislators?

If legislators wanted to help law enforcement, they should have given them more options, not fewer.