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Archive for Saturday, July 29, 2000

Ill-gotten gains

July 29, 2000

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Kansas shouldn't raise money for the state treasury by selling guns confiscated from criminals.

In the big scheme of things, is the $70,000 or so that the state would gain from the sale of confiscated guns really worth it?

The Kansas Department of Revenue was scheduled to hold a gun sale today to dispose of firearms confiscated by law enforcement officers. The sale was postponed at the last minute because it appeared that the department's decision not to announce the time or place of the sale conflicted with a state law that requires public notice of such sales. A sale now is planned for September.

Officials had said they expected to sell about 400 guns. About 40 percent, or about 160, of them are handguns. Although the revenue department had sold no guns for several years, they have been sold in the past to help recoup money that drug offenders owed the state because they didn't pay a state tax on illegal drugs. Because it's impractical to expect people who possess illegal drugs to pay the tax voluntarily, selling confiscated guns and other seized property is the only way the state has of collecting the tax.

Gov. Bill Graves protested the selling of confiscated guns, but the Kansas Legislature -- perhaps looking at a lean budget year -- rejected a measure to discontinue the practice.

Is the money really that important? Figures from the revenue department indicate that the state has sold 317 guns in the last seven years and raised $50,704. Based on that figure, the sale of about 400 guns could be expected to raise about $65,000, which would be barely a drop in the bucket of the state treasury.

The revenue department had declined to make public the time or location of the gun sale because it would only be open to federally licensed firearms dealers. If the licensed dealers only sell guns to responsible, law-abiding citizens, then presumably no damage will be done.

In theory, that's true. But the tone set by the state's participation in the marketing of firearms isn't a good one. Because the seized guns were used by people in the drug trade, one would have to assume that many of them are not the sort of guns an average citizen would purchase for hunting pheasant or even for self-defense. Not that any of these guns couldn't be obtained by legal or illegal means by people who really want them, but does the state need to participate in the transaction?

Graves is right. The state needs to get out of this loop. The guns should be destroyed, not returned to the marketplace. In some parts of the country, law enforcement agencies are operating programs that encourage people to voluntarily surrender weapons, which are then destroyed. Kansas legislators need to reconsider the policy of raising money for the state budget by selling guns.

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