Cary, N.C. — A new state law could put guns that have been used in crimes back on the street.
The so-called Save the Guns Law, which went into effect Sept. 1, prohibits North Carolina law enforcement agencies from destroying most of the guns that are seized in criminal investigations or surrendered by owners.
Unless a weapon no longer works or lacks a valid serial number, police departments and sheriff's offices must either donate it to a museum, keep it for training or sell it to a federally licensed gun dealer – even if it was used in a crime.
"I think most victims' families don't want the firearms that have been used to hurt one of their loved ones to then be recirculated back in the community," said Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, who voted against the legislation.
"I trust the discretion of local police officers and local sheriffs who know their communities," Hall said, noting that the law takes away that discretion.
Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, who voted for the law, said selling guns is a more efficient way for police to dispose of them.
"Rather than taking the issue back into court and spending time with a judge, it seems to me that it's more convenient and more cost-effective," Dollar said.
Capt. Tracy Jernigan, of the Cary Police Department, said he never expected to find himself in the gun business. The department takes in about 50 guns a year and has traditionally destroyed them.
"I think that we’re going to have to do the best we can with the statute and make the best of it. It’s too early really to tell whether it’s a win or not," Jernigan said. "I do think there will be some value out of it for the agency as far as being able to put resources back into the department, but it does, it is something different than we’ve been doing."
The Cary Police Department hasn't decided what course to take in disposing of weapons, he said.
Likewise, the Raleigh Police Department is considering its options for the 750 or so guns it takes in each year, spokesman Jim Sughrue said. He declined to comment on the impact of the new law.
"Since the police department’s mission regarding firearms is limited to enforcing laws and ordinances, I don’t feel qualified to comment on a matter of public policy established by statute," Sughrue said in an email.
Gun-rights groups backed the law, while the North Carolina Sheriff's Association declined to take a position on it.