The job of America’s brave men and women of law enforcement is to defend the Constitution and uphold the laws of their jurisdictions. It’s a tough job, and those who do it faithfully are to be respected and commended.
But as movie hero Billy Jack famously said, “When policemen break the law, then there isn’t any law ….”
Now, a disturbing report from CBS46 in Atlanta is claiming that city officials, including the police chief, are refusing to comply with a law passed in 2012 that requires public agencies in possession of firearms that are no longer necessary for official use to dispose of those firearms through public auctions.
The report contains video of Atlanta Police Chief George N. Turner opining that compliance with the law would lead to “catastrophic” consequences. According to the report, Atlanta police have some 10,000 confiscated guns that they are warehousing, rather than disposing of as the law requires. The chief very clearly articulates what the law requires of his department and goes on to state, “The City of Atlanta has not done that.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is also depicted in the report acknowledging that he is aware of the law’s requirements and complaining that it’s “very difficult for me to lead on this ….”
Chief Turner reasons that they are not “defying” the legislature but are merely “in a holding pattern.”
But as the report goes on to point out, the law is very clear that “in no event shall such auctions occur less frequently than once every six months during any time in which the political subdivision or state custodial agency has an inventory of saleable firearms.” In over three years, Atlanta has yet to conduct a single auction.
Reporter Ben Swann aptly summarizes the situation as follows: “to say you morally object to the law and you don’t have to follow it… Chief Turner and Mayor Reed would never allow that same reasoning for the rest of us accused of breaking the law.”
The NRA supported Georgia S.B. 350 in 2012 for the simple reason that it treats firearms like any other lawful consumer product that comes into the custody of state officials. Very simply, the law requires that guns forfeited or abandoned to public agencies shall, when no longer necessary for official purposes, but returned to their innocent owners, if applicable, or auctioned to licensed dealers.
Another reporter in the CBS piece alludes to the city having to “dump these guns on the street ….” Under the law, however, that is far from the case.
First, the law states that the firearms have to be auctioned to federally licensed dealers, who are then required to use the same safeguards in their further sale or disposal as they would firearms obtained directly from their manufacturers. Thus, to the degree the Atlanta mayor or police chief have a problem with what the law requires, they have a problem with all lawful firearm commerce.
Furthermore, the law has additional protections to prevent dangerous or unintentional consequences. First, it does not apply if the head of the agency, or a designee of such official, “certifies the firearm is unsafe for use because of wear, damage, age, or modification ….” Also, despite the repeated mention of “illegal guns” in the report, the law does not apply where “any federal or state law prohibits the sale or distribution of such firearm.” In those cases, the agency has several options for disposing of the firearms, including destruction.
Police departments and other public agencies routinely sell forfeited property to the law-abiding public, including firearms. Under the Georgia law, the revenues generated are required first to be used to offset the cost of administering the auctions and then to be transferred to the general fund for further public use. Why anyone would object to raising public revenue through the sale of lawful products (and in the case of firearms, through heavily regulated channels of commerce), rather than expending public money to store or destroy the material, is not clear.
The radical fringe of the gun control movement loves to portray firearm owners as aggrieved insurrectionists, eager to take up arms against any perceived grievance.
Yet here is an apparent case of public administrators using the power and authority of their offices to advance their own preferred public policy, in open disregard of the contrary public policy enacted by the peoples’ elected representatives. When the enforcement authorities think they know better than those who make the laws, the democratic system can quickly fall by the wayside.
Simply put, that flirts dangerously close to anarchy.
We can only hope this unusually penetrating report restores some “law” to the “law and order” apparatus of Atlanta, Georgia. We’ll be following this story closely and providing updates as further developments occur.