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Tucson gun buyback effort raises legal questions

TUCSON, Ariz. An effort to raise money for a gun buyback program in Tucson is prompting questions about a change in state law.

Councilman Steve Kozachik is raising $5,000 so Tucsonans may have a way to dispose of unwanted firearms while making money in the process.

"With the success other cities have had with voluntary gun buybacks, I want to test the water to see how Tucson residents respond," Kozachik told the Arizona Daily Star. "The rules are simple: Bring in your gun on a totally voluntary basis, no questions asked, and you'll trade it for a Safeway $50 gift card."

But Todd Rathner, a member of the National Rifle Association's board of directors, said any buyback program would be meaningless since the police department would be required to return or resell the weapons under a change made earlier this year to state law.

"The police would have to take the guns and run them through the national database. If they are stolen, they are returned to the owner," he said. "If they are not stolen, (the Tucson Police Department) is mandated by state law to sell them to the public."

The police department checks every gun it receives to ensure they aren't stolen or have been used to commit a crime. Spokeswoman Sgt. Maria Hawke said the department holds several "destruction boards" throughout the year to dispose of things such as illicit drugs and guns and the same process would hold true for guns purchased through a buyback program.

Hawke said the department is researching how the statute applies to its practices regarding the disposal of firearms.

Rathner contends that destruction of firearms would put the department in violation of the law.

"If they are in violation of state law, we will see them in a courtroom or we will change the law and have them sanctioned financially," he said.

City Attorney Mike Rankin believes the law is intended to apply to guns seized by police, not those firearms voluntarily surrendered by their owners.

Kozachik said he doesn't understand why the NRA would oppose a voluntary program like the one he's proposing.

Ken Rineer, president of Gun Owners of Arizona, said he has reservations over losing guns committed during a crime, people unwittingly selling antique firearms and the legal issues regarding who is a licensed gun dealer when large numbers of weapons are purchased.

"I don't know if these issues can be laid to rest if they follow the no-question policy," Rineer said. He added that buyback programs work well as symbolism but have minor impacts in the real world.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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