‘Save the gun’ law bars North Carolina cops from destroying guns

A North Carolina law has gone into effect that blocks police from destroying confiscated or unclaimed firearms.
(Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

You know those gun-buyback programs where police purchase weapons in order to destroy them? This week, a North Carolina law goes into effect that blocks police from destroying confiscated or unclaimed firearms.

In the polarized post-Sandy Hook political era -- with some liberal states tightening gun laws while conservative legislatures have moved aggressively to loosen restrictions -- North Carolina’s gun-destruction policy is among the most unusual policies to take effect.

The so-called “save the gun” law, at the urging of the National Rifle Assn., breezed through votes by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled Legislature in the spring as the state moved to strengthen gun rights. In October, concealed-carry owners will also be allowed to take guns into bars and restaurants (as long as they don’t drink), or leave their guns in their vehicles while at schools and universities.


The new law (full text here) requires that law-enforcement agencies donate, keep or sell confiscated guns to licensed gun dealers, provided the weapons aren’t damaged or missing serial numbers. In such cases, guns may be destroyed.

Some North Carolina law enforcement agencies had conducted gun buyback programs before the law went into effect Sunday. An effort in Wilmington last week netted 23 rifles and and shotguns and 44 handguns, police said. Held in honor of two local victims of gun violence, the gun buyback ran out of money in 30 minutes.

To sell or destroy weapons in the past, North Carolina law enforcement agencies needed a judge’s permission.

The new statute essentially limits local police’s options and strips local judges of power in deciding how to deal with unclaimed guns -- a top-down move fully supported by the NRA.

“It is critical for you to contact your state Representative TODAY and urge her or him to oppose any efforts to amend H 714 in a way that will allow any discretion by judges or law enforcement to destroy lawful functioning firearms,” said one alert from the NRA’s legislative division as the bill was being debated.

According to a Bloomberg News report, a similar gun-destruction bill was passed in Kentucky in 1998 and has since been endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential conservative legislative-interests group responsible for replicating such legislation across the country.

Arizona passed a similar gun-destruction law in May, to the consternation of some city officials and police who supported buyback programs.

Since legislatures have always been highly reluctant to take guns from their owners, gun-buyback programs have been one approach for law-enforcement agencies to try to decrease the number of weapons circulating in their jurisdictions.

One May 2012 gun buyback by the Los Angeles Police Department offered gift cards from Ralphs or Visa for up to $100 for handguns, shotguns and rifles, and up to $200 for assault weapons.

That buyback netted 791 handguns, 527 rifles, 302 shotguns, 53 assault weapons and a rocket launcher. (The LAPD collected two more rocket launchers and 2,037 more firearms in December of that year, held shortly after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.)

Police buybacks are not without their own critics, who say that such programs fail to get the most dangerous weapons from the people most likely to use them.

North Carolina’s gun-destruction bill passed the House 98 to 16 and the Senate 48 to 1 before being signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.


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