STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, have formed a political action committee to support the prevention of gun violence. Their announcement came yesterday, the second anniversary of the mass shooting in Tucson that left six dead and wounded 13 people, including Giffords.
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INSKEEP: As we're hearing, churches and fire stations around Tucson rang bells in memory of the victims of that shooting and of some others since. The Tucson Police Department also held a gun buy-back yesterday, and authorities would like to destroy the 206 firearms that were turned in. The National Rifle Association, though, says that would violate Arizona law. NPR's Ted Robbins explains.
TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: A line of people with guns formed in front of the midtown Tucson Police Station well before the 9:00 a.m. starting time for the buy-back.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Serial number 009897.
ROBBINS: At a command post in the parking lot, officers checked weapons to make sure they hadn't been stolen or used in a crime, and took the guns. The people who turned them in got a $50 Safeway gift card for every gun, money donated by the grocery chain and by private contributors. Anna Jolivet had four old rifles she didn't want.
Were they just sitting in your closet?
ANNA JOLIVET: They belonged to my husband, and he passed away four years ago. And I haven't had any success in having someone take them off of me since then, so I thought this was a good time to turn them in.
ROBBINS: That was exactly what Republican Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik expected when he asked the police to do the buy-back. What he didn't expect was the response after he announced the event.
STEVE KOZACHIK: I've been getting threats. I've been getting emails. I've been getting phone calls in the office trying to, you know, shut this thing down, or we're going to sue you. Or who do you think you are?
ROBBINS: Todd Rathner may sue. Rathner is an Arizona lobbyist and a national board member of the NRA. He has no problem with a gun buy-back, but he does have a problem with the guns' fate once police take possession of them.
TODD RATHNER: We do believe that it's illegal for them to destroy those guns.
ROBBINS: Rathner says Arizona state law forces local governments to sell seized or abandoned property to the highest bidder.
RATHNER: If property has been abandoned to the police, then they are required by ARS 12-945 to sell it to a federally licensed firearms dealer, and that's exactly what they should do.
ROBBINS: That way, Rathner says the guns can be put back in circulation or given away. The Tucson city attorney calls that a misreading of the law. Councilman Kozachik says the guns aren't being abandoned. They're being turned in voluntarily.
KOZACHIK: This is about giving somebody the chance to say, look, I'm not comfortable having this weapon. Here's an opportunity for me to simply just get rid of it in a proper manner.
ROBBINS: Todd Rathner says the NRA will ask for an accounting of every weapon turned in, then go to court to stop the firearms from being destroyed. If that doesn't work, Rathner says they'll change the law.
RATHNER: We just go back and we tweak it and tune it up, and we work with our friends in the legislature and fix it so that they can't do it.
ROBBINS: At the gun buy-back, gun rights advocates held signs saying, cash for guns and pay double for your guns. As cars pulled into the parking lot, they asked drivers if they wanted to sell their guns privately rather than turn them in. There were few takers. Doug Deahn couldn't understand it.
DOUG DEAHN: Can't figure. They'd rather line up and give them away. I couldn't figure that out, for the record.
ROBBINS: What's to become of the weapons may still be unclear, but in the current political climate, this controversy seems to show - in Arizona, at least - it's tough for an owner to get rid of an unwanted gun. Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.