Updated: October 3, 2009 at 12:00 am
Gun displays are a fixture of police news conferences everywhere, allowing cops to pose for television cameras and tout weapons they’ve taken off the streets and marked for destruction.
On Saturday in Colorado Springs, police carefully laid out 81 confiscated guns in a conference room. This time, cameras were prohibited, and the only people permitted inside were potential buyers.
This week marks the home stretch of the Police Department’s first foray into weapon sales in at least 15 years, an about-face ordered by leaders struggling to make ends meet in a cash-strapped city.
Although police were reluctant to enter the arms business, others see little downside to reintroducing the guns into the marketplace, especially given that the sale is limited to federally licensed gun dealers.
“This is a great thing,” said a potential buyer, Rich Wyatt, of Gunsmoke, a retired police chief of Alma, west of Denver, and now a firearms dealer in Wheat Ridge.
“Why not sell them so they can produce a profit that can be turned into income toward more law enforcement?”
Saturday’s event was a pre-auction preview allowing potential buyers to examine the weapons before submitting sealed bids, which are due Oct. 9.
The guns, to be sold to the highest bidders in lots of four to 11, were laid out on tables inside the Police Operations Center in a display that was closed to the public.
The weapons included an AK-47, pump shotguns with pistol grips, a .44 Magnum revolver of the type that rose to fame with the “Dirty Harry” movies, and two or three Derringer-type one- and two-shot handguns small enough to conceal inside a handbag or tuck into a pants pocket.
A Fabrique Nationale .30-06 semiautomatic rifle was among the potential collectibles.
Some of the weapons have a checkered history, police said.
One was used in a robbery, and at least seven were seized during investigations into felony menacing, meaning the weapons were pointed at someone.
Others were taken from felons, seized during drug investigations or simply turned over to police as found property.
“None of the guns were used in a shooting,” said police evidence supervisor Joe Kissel, who presided over the auction preview.
The guns were test-fired by police to ensure they are in working order, Kissell said.
Until now, weapons seized from criminals were melted down at the Pueblo steel mill or ground into scrap at an automobile recycling plant.
Selling them was the brainchild of Vice Mayor Larry Small, who proposed the idea in February to make money when the City Council was trying to close a nearly $17 million budget gap.
Only Councilwoman Jan Martin sided with the Police Department, which recommended against putting the guns back on the street.
Police spokesman Lt. David Whitlock said the department was “confident” it was proceeding with the gun sale in a way that is both lawful and prudent.
Among the department’s ground rules, he said, was a refusal to disclose the history of individual weapons to interested buyers.
Police refuse to cater to those with a “macabre interest” in weapons used during violent acts, he said.
Wyatt, who was among six gun dealers who attended the preview on Saturday, said there was no call to be squeamish.
“If there’s a drive-by shooting, police end up selling the car and destroying the gun,” he said. “Why is that? Both were used in a crime. A gun is a tool.”
Depending on the outcome of this week’s auction, the gun sale may become a regular event at the Police Department, Whitlock said.
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