Politics & Government

State Patrol can sell or trade confiscated guns. Now it wants a third option.

The Washington State Patrol wants to be able to destroy confiscated guns, an option county and city-level law enforcement agencies already have.

Capt. Monica Alexander, the patrol’s legislative liaison, said the patrol requested the change in state law because it was concerned firearms previously in the state’s possession could end up being used to commit crimes after they are sold or traded to a licensed dealer.

The patrol is allowed to keep up to 10 percent of confiscated weapons for agency use, and the rest must be traded or sold to licensed firearm dealers. In recent years, the agency has traded in confiscated guns rather than selling them. The last exchange was in September 2014, when the patrol exchanged 251 confiscated weapons for 127 Smith & Wesson .40-caliber pistols.

The patrol has not had an issue with the exchanged weapons being later used in crimes, Alexander said. Destroying seized weapons could help ensure no future problems develop.

“Obviously the State Patrol has no problem with people responsibly and legally owning firearms,” she said, “but it is important for us to do our part and keep citizens safe.”

Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, is sponsor of House Bill 1483, which would allow the patrol to destroy guns a court deems were illegally concealed, owned or sold, or used to commit a crime.

“It is just an option, not a requirement,” Senn said. “It really just gives the State Patrol the same options that other law enforcement agencies have.”

Lars Daleside, spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said the bill is shortsighted and wrongly treats firearms differently from other confiscated items.

“(The bill) is more of a public statement than something that will actually prevent violent crime,” Daleside said.

Destroying guns, he said, does not provide the incentive for people to change their criminal behavior.

“If you want to make an impact on crime,” Daleside said, “go after criminals.”

Licensed dealers and people purchasing guns from licensed dealers are not criminals, he said. Dealers should have access to guns, and buyers should have the ability to purchase them.

Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, who is a sergeant with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, co-sponsored the bill because he wants the State Patrol to have the same authority as other law enforcement agencies. But he opposes “broad, mass destruction” of confiscated firearms.

“The large majority of (forfeited) guns should be sold,” he said, “and the profits should be retained.”

Rep. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, opposed the bill in the House Judiciary Committee for that reason. He said taxpayers should get the benefit of confiscated weapons.

“These are public goods that have value. By destroying (firearms), you are destroying public money,” Muri said. “My job is to protect the public purse.”

Alexander said revenue from confiscated weapons does not significantly help the State Patrol. In the 2014 exchange, the patrol received weapons valued at $49,000.

Forrest Holt: 360-943-7240