Lock and load

On the bottom floor of the Asheville Police Department, Evidence Manager Lee Smith wheels out a large mail cart full of guns. He follows that with two restaurant-size trash cans. All three have dozens of rifle muzzles protruding from them.

What a sight: APD Evidence Manager Lee Smith holds one of the more valuable weapons netted in the city’s recent effort to buy up guns. Photo By Jonathan Welch

Fishing deep into the mail cart, Smith pulls out a sawed-off, pump-action shotgun and points to the place where the weapon’s serial number has been filed away. “It makes you wonder what kind of situation it was used in,” he says.

But like the history of the other weapons rounded up during the department’s buyback campaign earlier this month, that information will remain lost along with the serial number. As part of the push to get guns off the street, officers involved in the program didn’t ask questions, they just paid out: $50 for handguns and rifles; $100 for assault weapons. For two weekends, the department set up shop at city community centers, buying up the guns. That effort ended Dec. 15.

To date, more than 300 have been collected, Smith reports. Many are in poor shape—rickety and rusty. “Most of the weapons you are going to get are ones people have had sitting around,” he notes.

But a few are worth significantly more than the $50 offered by the APD. Pawnshops, however, require paperwork—a hassle if the gun was stolen or used in a crime.

After being run through a database to see if any were stolen, the guns will be shipped to Biltmore Iron and Metal for destruction. The whole load, says Smith, will be reduced to scrap in the space of two hours. A few select specimens may be rendered unfireable and used to train rookie officers and forensics experts.

Vice Mayor Jan Davis, who guided the issue onto a City Council agenda in November, is pleased with the results. “Even if it quit today, it’s a huge success,” he says.

But Davis, who worked with community activist (and former Vice Mayor) Gene Ellison to ignite the campaign, hopes to keep it going. There’s still money left from City Council’s $25,000 appropriation and the $7,000 in private donations, and Davis wants more stations set up to receive guns in 2008. In the meantime, anyone interested can call the APD and set up a time to make the sale—no questions asked.

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