After New Times writer Matthew Hendley reported that Phoenix police took in an assault rifle at last weekend's "buyback" event, we were curious what kind of gun it was.
Turns out that, in exchange for a $200 gift certificate, an anonymous donor gave up a Colt AR-15 believed to be good condition, a firearm that might have netted a seller $1,000 to $2,000 on the open market.
The donor apparently needed inner peace more than money.
Phoenix police plan to destroy the AR-15 and the 802 other guns received in the buyback event, which was conducted in participation with a gun-control group and used $100,000 in private donations.
As New Times writer Matthew Hendley reported yesterday, police also took in 442 handguns, 162 shotguns and 198 rifles. Donors received $100 for each gun; the $200 gift was only for honest-to-gosh assault rifles.
Yes, we understand that many folks might take issue with calling the AR-15 an "assault rifle." But Phoenix PD also uses the nomenclature, categorizing "assault rifles" by the type of round they take, not how militaristic they look, says Sergeant Steve Martos, PPD spokesman. In case you wondering, the turned-in Colt takes 5.56mm/.223-caliber ammo.
Demand for AR-15s has been off the charts in recent months as lawmakers debate banning them. Though popular with gun enthusiasts, the rifle has been vilified by gun-control advocates, especially since a Bushmaster AR-15 was used by Adam Lanza in December to gun down 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut.
Most of the guns taken in, Martos says, were probably worth $100 to $300. Police didn't appraise them. Many of those donors may have lost some money on the deal, but nothing in the range of several hundred dollars, as the Colt could have fetched.
Because donors in the event remained anonymous, Martos didn't have the "why or who" on the Colt donation.
"For all I know, it was used in a crime the night before and they want to dispose of it," he says.
Donald Plante, owner of Don's Guns in Gilbert, just doesn't get it when it comes to buyback events. Someone could probably have taken the AR-15 to a gun store and sold it for at least $800, he surmises.
He believes it's ridiculous to destroy guns: "They can take and sell those guns and make a nifty profit."
Of course, that's just what state lawmakers were thinking when they passed a law, signed by Governor Jan Brewer last week, that prohibits cities from destroying buyback-event guns, instead requiring them to sell the weapons to dealers.
The person who turned in the AR-15 may have felt strongly that the gun should be destroyed so it would never be used in a Newtown-like massacre. But if the gun had been sold to a dealer, a background check for the next buyer would have been conducted. The donor's gun might have been snapped up by, say, someone like Mark Kelly. What's the harm in that?
On the other hand, if a would-be killer wants an AR-15, they'll get one. That means the only benefit to the donor -- who, again, apparently doesn't need money -- is a warm, fuzzy feeling.
We asked Martos whether police feel safer since the gun buyback program. He laughs heartily for a few seconds before admitting it's a tricky question.
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"We understand there's no direct link between these events and crime reduction," he says. "It's geared toward people who want to dispose of an unwanted weapon. And we do think there's a potential where we might reduce or prevent an injury, either from someone who is accidentally shot with one of these guns, or because it was used in a crime like a burglary."
Ultimately, police believe the buyback program "is still effective in some way," he says.
In the case of the donated Colt AR-15, it was effective in causing someone to lose money -- and perhaps sleep better.