VANCOUVER, Wash. — Holdover legislation from previous sessions that would allow the Washington State Patrol to destroy guns it confiscates during criminal investigations is on track for a vote on the state Senate floor.
The option to destroy firearms is already available to all other law enforcement agencies in the state.
Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, the main sponsor of House Bill 1010, said the bill has never made it this far in the process, and she said she is confident it will pass.
Senn described the bill as sensible gun policy. The state patrol should have the discretion to destroy firearms like every other agency, she said.
“It’s very common sense,” Senn said.
The House passed the bill along party lines Jan. 23, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans against. Its next stop is the Senate Rules Committee and then a floor vote.
Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, cosponsored the bill. Wylie said it seems like an oversight that state patrol is unable to destroy firearms, and it makes sense to change the law to have consistency.
The Washington State Patrol wants the bill to pass, and its intended changes are needed, communications director Chris Loftis said.
“Current law allows other law enforcement agencies the option to destroy but is strict with WSP, stating that we must keep them for agency use or auction/trade with licensed dealers, who then will sell them to the public,” Loftis said in an email.
The bill gives state patrol six months after its effective date to develop and put in place policies that address criteria for figuring out when firearms should be destroyed, Loftis said.
Currently, once legal notices have been completed, troopers at various district offices will send guns to propertyroom.com to be sold. Some are kept for “law enforcement duties by commissioned staff,” Loftis said. Firearms illegal for anyone to possess are already destroyed by the agency, he said.
The larger law enforcement agencies in Clark County all have procedures for dealing with collected guns. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Vancouver Police Department have each seized more than 100 firearms annually for the past three years.
The sheriff’s office trades or destroys firearms depending on the situation, said Lindsay Arnold, evidence and logistics manager. Those situations include authorities getting no response from an owner, illegal ownership and surrender of the firearm by the owner, among other scenarios, Arnold said.
Here’s when deputies destroy firearms: when a gun is used in a violent crime; if it has no value because it’s inoperable or rusted; if the weapon was used in a suicide, unless the family wants it; or if the gun is illegal, like a sawed-off shotgun.
“It’s a case-by-case basis. I’m not sure one is necessarily used more than another — so really, a combination,” Arnold said.
The sheriff’s office also uses auction sites like propertyroom.com.
The Vancouver Police Department destroys all unclaimed firearms, spokeswoman Kim Kapp said.
“Nothing is auctioned,” she said.
Passage of the bill by the House followed a yearlong investigation by The Associated Press that found more than a dozen weapons sold by state law enforcement agencies turned up in new criminal cases.
One firearm sold by the Washington State Patrol was used by an Army veteran to kill himself, the AP found. The bullet went through a wall and narrowly missed his neighbor’s head as she bent down to pull her baby out of the bathtub, according to AP.
Senn said some guns obtained illegally were once in the hands of the state patrol, and troopers should have the choice to destroy them so they’re not repeatedly used in crimes, a suicide or against law enforcement.
“It causes emotional anguish, knowing that a gun was in (law enforcement) jurisdiction, and then it gets back on the street and is used in a subsequent crime,” she said. “As more research is being done, we know it’s not just theoretical. They are being used in additional crimes.”
Rep. Larry Hoff, R-Vancouver, said he would prefer to see the guns sold by the state patrol to licensed firearm dealers, so the sales can fund public safety needs and initiatives.
“It’s a shame that they’re getting into the wrong hands, but the firearms are being sold legally, once the buyers are going through background checks. Maybe we should look into why that’s happening. Many of them are stolen from legal owners, which is an entirely different issue,” Hoff said.
Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, similarly said the firearms should be sold to federally licensed dealers and the funds used for public safety needs.
Wylie said troopers are not in the arms dealing business; their role is the welfare and protection of the general public.
When the bill was first introduced four years ago, Senn said, the funding argument may have been valid because state patrol had a backlog of confiscated guns in storage. All of those firearms have been sold off, she said.
“Financially, it’s a wash. The argument of lost revenue is a fallacy,” Senn said.
Loftis, the state patrol spokesman, confirmed that the money from reselling confiscated guns is not enough to be noticed.
“The reality in this situation is that the relatively small amounts of funds earned with sales or spent with destruction would have no appreciable impact on the operating budget of our large statewide agency,” Loftis said.