PORT ANGELES — Law enforcement agencies across the North Olympic Peninsula have various ways of disposing of forfeited guns, from trading them in for newer weapons in Port Angeles to destroying them in Port Townsend and Forks.
Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith and other law enforcement officials in Clallam and Jefferson counties said last week that most weapons they get rid of are handguns and hunting rifles.
They said weapons such as the semi-automatic, assault-style AR-15 rifle that was used in the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school rarely come into their departments’ custody — but they still do come under their control.
The agencies take possession by court order following a crime or hold the guns for safekeeping for residents who are not allowed to possess the weapons due to conditions of a criminal sentence or pending the resolution of a case.
“The vast majority of guns that will be with us are temporarily in evidence or for safekeeping,” Smith said.
“Typically, what’s forfeited to us is a handgun.”
Forty-eight guns that were in the custody of the police department in a 2013 case were transferred at the direction of the court to a licensed federal firearms dealer to be sold to pay the legal bills of the man who owned the weapons.
One of the guns owed by Bobby Jerrel “B.J.” Smith was a civilian version of an M-14, an automatic military rifle that predates the M-16, and a 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle.
Still another was the 1911 Colt automatic, for decades a military-issue sidearm, that a jury said Smith shot in killing a neighbor, Port Angeles Deputy Police Chief Jason Viada said.
Smith said guns without value are destroyed, while those that are usable are traded to a licensed dealer, Doc Neely’s Gun Shop in Port Angeles, for rifles and handguns to replace weapons carried by the department’s 32 officers.
The department had custody last week of 141 rifles and handguns, Smith said.
None have been traded in the past six months, he added.
Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said his department sells forfeited guns to gun dealers and has sold AR-15s in the past.
He was unaware if any were included in the 50-100 guns sold in the past five years or so.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if there were, because they’re not illegal,” Benedict said.
Most of the weapons, Undersheriff Ron Cameron said, “are pretty junky guns.”
The Sheriff’s Department doesn’t sell guns that are used in homicides.
“That’s completely my personal feeling about it,” Benedict said.
“There’s no need for those guns to hang out in the public, I guess.”
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office trades guns for ammunition and training materials, Undersheriff Art Frank said in an interview.
The agency does not sell guns that are used in the commission of crimes.
“They are destroyed as a public nuisance, for lack of a better term,” Frank said.
The Sheriff’s Office sent 35 guns to a licensed dealer Feb. 7, and sent its last shipment before that about 18 months ago, he said.
“There were no what are commonly referred to as assault weapons,” he said in an email.
All guns that are forfeited to the Port Townsend Police department are destroyed, spokeswoman Keppie Keplinger said.
“They prefer to destroy them so they don’t get back into the community,” she said.
Keplinger said about 100 guns have been destroyed in the past three to five years.
Weapons forfeited to the Forks Police Department also are destroyed due to past policy based on concerns over liability if the weapon is linked to a crime, Police Chief Mike Rowley said.
Rowley said he intends to begin trading firearms for ammunition if the weapons can’t be used by his department to offset the cost to taxpayers.
“[Ammunition] is not cheap,” Rowley said.
Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain said forfeited guns build up to a few dozen before they are traded for ammunition to Surplus Ammo & Arms, a licensed dealer in Tacoma.
That’s occurred a couple of times in the past 15 years or so, Crain said.
The last batch of about 20 rifles, handguns and two or three black-powder muzzle loaders was traded last spring for ammunition.
“There were no AR-15s or any of those kinds of guns,” Crain said.
About a dozen were destroyed by public works, including some that did not work.
“We get a lot of people whose uncle died and they say, ‘we want this gun destroyed,’ ” Crain said.
“One was a sawed-off shotgun, a couple were inoperable, dangerous in the sense that there was no guarantee those suckers were going to work, so we had those chopped up.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].