The Falmouth Select Board on Monday, January 10, discussed how to dispose of the police department’s used assault-style rifles so they do not end up in the wrong hands.
The guns that are set to be traded in are AR-15s, a military-grade, semi-automatic rifle.
When the police department retires a gun, it trades it to a federally licensed gun dealer for credit toward new guns, Falmouth Police Chief Edward A. Dunne said at Monday night’s select board meeting, January 10.
Police use the rifles for training and also equip patrol cars with them, he said. Each patrol car has a long AR rifle locked and stored in it, in the event an officer arrives at a scene with an active shooter.
The issue first arose during November Town Meeting when Chief Dunne asked for $86,000 to purchase 38 new firearms and replace 21 assault rifles that are 20 years old and wearing out.
The measure passed, but it did prompt questions over what happens to the used weapons.
On Monday, Richard Duby of Blacksmith Shop Road, East Falmouth, cautioned the board against selling the weapons.
“The gun is designed to kill or wound as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and to reload to do it all over again as quickly as possible. That is the type of weapon our government wanted for our military members,” Mr. Duby said. He used the M-14 when he served in the US Military in Southeast Asia in 1966 and 1967. He was also a competitive pistol shooter, hunter, member of the NRA and a current member of the Falmouth Gun Safety Coalition.
“This is the gun we are thinking of turning back to the private market and in doing so, we are basically trading a military gun to a vendor, who will sell it to the public.”
Chief Dunne argued that the trade-in process is safe and compliant with state law, and questioned the alternatives.
“If I hold on to them, we would have to maintain them, store them and at what point do we get rid of them? To date, I have been following the procurement law and it has been the safest and best way to do it, because we are dealing with a federally licensed firearm dealer,” he said.
He also reminded the board that Massachusetts law prohibits the sale and possession of assault weapons; therefore, a licensed dealer could not sell to a state resident.
The town could be hamstrung by a state law that says surplus government property having a resale or salvage value of $10,000 or more must be resold or traded in. The chief estimates the 21 guns are worth about $500 a piece, therefore triggering the $10,000 threshold.
The state’s uniform procurement act covers the purchase and disposal of supplies or property by a government entity in Massachusetts.
“These guns are treated just like any other used surplus commodity, like used furniture,” Town Counsel Frank K. Duffy explained. First the value of the market price has to be determined. If the surplus is valued over $10,000, he said, there are three options.
“Sealed bids and auctions will not work for Falmouth since we are not a licensed dealer,” Mr. Duffy said. The third option, he said, is to trade them in.
“Most police departments trade in to a licensed dealer who will sell on the market, which has to follow federal guidelines,” he said.
Mr. Duby said the chief’s estimated value of the used guns was high.
“They are 20-year-old rifles and new ones can be purchased for $800,” he said.
He hopes the select board can find a solution, and if not, the state law should be changed.
“Because right now, Falmouth is saying, ‘Our hands are clean and we did what we could do, but we have no control of what happens to the guns.’ But we are, in fact, acting as distributors of the AR-15s. That is not the Falmouth we live in,” he said.
Select board member Megan English Braga suggested the chief begin the procurement trade-in process to determine their value.
“They could be worth less than $10,000,” she said. “We could sit here tonight and come up with a creative way to dispose or hold guns, and then we figure out we are in violation of the law, if [they are] valued higher than 10k,” she said.
The board and chief agreed to begin the bid process to determine the actual value of the guns.