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Wilson Vetoes Ban on Resale of Seized Guns : Police: Governor says criminals will find other ways to get firearms and that many law agencies need the revenue. Measure's author accuses him of caving in to the NRA.

October 02, 1994|PAUL JACOBS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Pete Wilson has vetoed a measure that would have stopped police agencies from auctioning off the firearms that they confiscate from criminals rather than destroying them.

A number of financially strapped police and sheriff's departments have used the auctions to raise money. But the practice has been widely criticized at a time when several communities are trying to reduce the number of weapons on their streets with highly publicized buyback programs--offering tickets to rock concerts and sports events and other prizes in exchange for guns.

Wilson, in vetoing the bill late Friday, argued that the measure by Assemblyman Mike Gotch (D-San Diego) was "chiefly symbolic"--that it would not prevent criminals from acquiring guns by theft or on the black market.

The governor also contended that the money from auctioning off the weapons to licensed dealers was needed to put more police in the streets.

Gotch accused the governor of playing politics with the measure by caving in to the National Rifle Assn.

"I don't understand why the governor would want Saturday night specials, gang guns, or copycat assault weapons recycled into our communities," Gotch said in a statement Saturday. "Given that the primary opposition to (the bill) was the NRA, it looks like this veto was motivated purely by politics and not public policy."

The confiscated firearms, Gotch has argued, provide a relatively cheap source of guns. Used weapons often sell for a fraction of the cost of new ones.

Wilson, in his veto message, contended that the impact on the availability of guns to criminals "would prove illusory."

"Rather than reducing the number of weapons available to criminals," the governor wrote, "the real effect of this measure would more likely be simply to create a greater market for the gun manufacturers who regularly supply licensed gun dealers. If confiscated weapons are not available to dealers, the dealers will instead purchase newly manufactured weapons."

Wilson said he could appreciate the symbolic value of the bill, "which I in no way demean. . . . But I am reluctant to take a symbolic step which has the practical effect of denying needed revenues to police chiefs and sheriffs who presently use the proceeds of gun sales to enhance the safety of their communities by putting more officers on the streets."

In his often-uphill battle to win passage for the measure, Gotch won the support of a number of local governments and law enforcement groups, including the cities of Los Angeles and Anaheim, the Peace Officers Research Assn. of California, Assn. of Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriffs, and Los Angeles Police Protective League.

But as Wilson noted, some law enforcement agencies opposed the measure because they depend on the hundreds of thousands of dollars generated by the weapons sales.

Over the years, the governor has signed bills that increase penalties for illegal possession of firearms, regulate the possession of weapons by minors, require training for gun buyers, and permit judges to confiscate guns from spouse abusers.

"The bottom line with the governor, he is a strong supporter of a person's right to personally protect themselves, particularly women," Wilson press secretary Sean Walsh said. "And he feels they are entitled to have a handgun to protect themselves. But he also feels that with that gun comes enormous responsibilities."

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