Chatham County looking for solution on confiscated guns

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Police statewide in Georgia continue to find themselves making tough decisions when it comes to confiscated guns - and how to keep them from getting back into the hands of criminals.

Since 2012, police have been required to sell at auction guns that are cleared from investigations and court cases after six months. It was clear at a recent Chatham County Commission meeting - that's not happening in every department. The Chatham-Savannah Narcotics Unit chose to take a different route.

Legislation failed to pass during the last session, trying to put the option of destroying firearms back on the table for local law enforcement agencies. When it comes to confiscated guns, those sworn to uphold the law are finding they are sometimes breaking it while trying to find a better way.

"I probably violated the law the last, past year because we haven't been selling them. We've been keeping them off the streets, and the fact of the matter is that we're going to ask for them to be destroyed now and not sold," said CNT Director, Everett Ragan.

Director Ragan told the commission he's looking to the courts to ask judges to sign destruction orders for guns that are seized and no longer being used as evidence because right now, the law is not on his side.

"We're not getting any traction from the state legislature in reference to the repeal of that law that requires us to sell weapons," Ragan said.

Local State Senator Lester Jackson sponsored a recent attempt to change the law. He says it'll take a little more effort to get the bill over the hump in the next legislative session.

"The issue is that we have so many rural legislators that think this is another move to take away their rights to bear arms," Senator Jackson said.

Jackson added, "When we go around the state, we found that many agencies have not turned those weapons in upward of five years. Those weapons are still on their shelves."

Savannah Alderman Van Johnson, along with several community groups, continues the efforts of a gun buyback program that has pulled around 30 guns off the streets.

"Some local governments may decide we want to put them back on the streets. I think locally, here, we want the ability to say, 'no, let's destroy those guns," he said.

Metro Police have taken 580 guns for a variety of reasons so far this year, from those used in assaults and homicides to guns stolen and also guns simply found by officers.

A leader within Metro's Department said because of the series of background checks and forensic analysis that a seized firearm is subjected to, six months is simply not always realistic for that gun to go to auction.

Senator Jackson says he doesn't know of any oversight when it comes to making sure police across the state are sending guns to auction. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation representative says it's not on their agency to uphold that timeline - and they're not aware of any other agency that would either.

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