The Phoenix City Council recently approved a plan to donate between 500 and 600 unclaimed firearms – valued at about $200,000 – to the National Police of Ukraine. Photo by Emma Peterson | Howard Center for Investigative Journalism
The city of Phoenix wants to donate hundreds of unclaimed firearms to the National Police of Ukraine, but two Republican state representatives say the city’s plan is illegal and have filed a complaint that will force Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes to investigate.
Rep. Quang Nguyen, of Prescott Valley, and Rep. Selina Bliss, of Prescott, wrote a letter to the Phoenix City Council July 3, asking it to rescind its ordinance, approved in late June, to transfer the firearms.
After the city made it clear that Phoenix planned to move forward with the arms transfer, Nguyen and Bliss on Aug. 21 wrote to Mayes, a Democrat, asking her to investigate whether the ordinance violated the state law governing the disposal of unclaimed firearms.
“State law allows unclaimed firearms to be sold to authorized businesses or traded among law enforcement agencies for ammunition, weapons, equipment or other materials to be exclusively used for law enforcement purposes,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Mayes.
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The Republicans are challenging Phoenix’s action using what’s known as an SB1487 complaint, named after a 2016 law that permits any legislator to ask the attorney general to review an action by any municipality or county if they believe that action violates state law.
If the AG’s investigation concludes that the local ordinance violates state law, the municipality must then forfeit all of the income tax money the state shares with cities and towns. Then the municipality is faced with a choice: repeal or amend the ordinance to comply with state law or take the fight to the Arizona Supreme Court, after which there is no appeal.
Phoenix’s share of state income and sales taxes is about $680 million in the current fiscal year, which began in July.
Through Phoenix’s plan, the city would transfer between 500-600 unclaimed firearms to Gruelle, a private company based in Philadelphia, which would deliver those firearms — worth around $200,000 — to the Ukrainian National Police in Kyiv.
Gruelle conducted a similar transfer of firearms between the U.S. city of Miami and the Ukrainian city of Irpin last August.
Phoenix spokesman Dan Wilson told Cronkite News last month that the city commonly transfers unclaimed weapons to other police forces, but this might be the first time it’s transferred them to a department overseas. According to the letter from the GOP lawmakers, the city executed its contract with Gruelle on Aug. 4 and then responded to the initial letter from Nguyen and Bliss on Aug. 16, saying that it had no plans to go back on its contract.
“The City’s willful ignorance of state law is not only troubling; it places the City in a precarious position should this issue be litigated,” Nguyen and Bliss wrote in the letter to Mayes, adding that any governing body that “knowingly and wilfully” violates state firearms law could be fined up to $50,000.
Nguyen and Bliss asked Mayes to issue a report on the lawfulness of the ordinance within 30 days.
“In the past, the City of Phoenix and the State of Arizona have lawfully transferred law enforcement items to equivalent agencies, and this situation is no different,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said in a written statement to the Arizona Mirror. “The State Legislature welcomed support for Ukraine through similar actions under former Governor Ducey, and this transfer was done under the same logic and intent.”
In the letter to Mayes, the Republican lawmakers argued that the city’s actions are much different than Ducey’s, since he only donated equipment to Ukraine, not firearms, and he had a much different legal authority as a governor than Phoenix does as a city.
To back up their claims that the firearms transfer is illegal, Nguyen and Bliss pointed to the 2017 case of Brnovich v. City of Tucson, in which the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the state law over a Tucson ordinance that authorized the destruction of unclaimed guns.
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