If the city of Phoenix wanted to collect “unwanted” guns or even donate old firearms no longer used by local law enforcement to the Ukrainian government, they’d be on solid legal ground. But the Democratic attorney general in Arizona says the city violated state law when it approved an ordinance that allowed guns seized by police and unclaimed by their rightful owner to be donated to Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression… though she doesn’t sound thrilled about having to reach that conclusion.
Last month state representatives Quang Nguyen and Selina Bliss asked AG Kris Mayes for her opinion on the legality of the ordinance approved by the Phoenix City Council, and today she delivered her opinion, admitting (however reluctantly) that the city doesn’t have the authority to dispose of collected firearms by donating them to a foreign government.
Representatives Nguyen and Bliss challenged the Ordinance’s legality in a July 3, 2023 letter to Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and the Phoenix City Council. Characterizing the Ordinance as “plainly unlawful,” the legislators alleged that, under A.R.S. § 12-945, “[u]nclaimed firearms may only be sold—not donated—and the buyer must be a ‘business that is authorized to receive and dispose of the firearm under federal and state law and that shall sell the firearm to the public according to federal and state law. . . .’” The letter also alleged violations of A.RS. § 13-3108(A) and A.RS. § 12-943.
On August 16, the City responded that it “view[ed] this transfer as similar to previous transfers of firearms made to local law enforcement agencies,” such as the “donations ‘of surplus bulletproof vests and armor’ to Ukraine” that former Governor Ducey announced in 2022. The City did not address the alleged statutory violations or otherwise provide legal authority supporting its position.
Again, donating surplus firearms poses no issues for Phoenix. It’s donating unclaimed guns that’s the problem.
The Phoenix Ordinance provides for the donation of firearms, not their destruction (as in Tucson). While no statute affirmatively bars donations, the Phoenix Ordinance is nonetheless unlawful to the extent it conflicts with state law mandating how cities must dispose of firearms. Representatives Nguyen and Bliss asked the Office to investigate potential violations of A.R.S. §§ 12-943, 12-945, and/or 13-3108(A), in particular, and the Office agrees that those are the relevant statutes.
As the Firearms Policy Coalition’s Rob Romano noted on X (formerly Twitter), Mayes still managed to take a jab at Nguyen and Bliss for daring to ask whether Phoenix violated state law. She even used the city’s unlawful actions to demand more “sensible” gun control legislation, and suggested that the legislature should repeal the statute in question.
— Rob Romano (@2Aupdates) September 20, 2023
Standing up against the authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin doesn’t require subverting state law and acting in a tyrannical fashion, which is exactly what Phoenix officials did. In fact, even though officials knew that an AG’s opinion had been requested, they still moved forward with the transfer of firearms to a third party who was supposed to turn them over to a Ukrainian non-profit organization.
In her report, Mayes said that the city of Phoenix will have 30 days to “resolve the violation”, but at this point it’s unclear how exactly officials will do that if the guns in question have already been shipped overseas. While their intentions may have been good, their actions in violating state law were absolutely deplorable, but I doubt that any city council member who voted to ignore the law in question is going to face any real consequences as a result.