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What local law enforcement does with seized firearms
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Lieutenant Jonathan Ottaway with the Gainesville Police Department inspects a shotgun from the department's armory on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

In the last decade of busting up narcotics trafficking, Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad Lt. Don Scalia said more and more of their cases involve the suspects packing heat.

“As a general trend over the course of five to 10 years especially, I’ve noticed that more and more people that we do encounter at least committing narcotics violations are armed … It would be a slight majority, maybe slightly over half. But I would say it’s just a reality of our business now,” Scalia said.

The MANS officers can then generate a new charge — possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. Under Georgia code, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony carries a five-year sentence, which will run consecutively to any other sentence. 

In 2018, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office placed 118 firearms into property and evidence, while Gainesville Police took in 31 firearms.

After what the Hall County Sheriff’s Office called one of its largest sales of seized firearms in the past 10 years, the department received $68,004.

“The dollar figure for this year is abnormally high because firearms from several older cases were finally cleared out in one of the largest such sales for the Sheriff’s Office in the past decade,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Derreck Booth wrote in an email.

In a June auction through GovDeals.com, the city of Gainesville sold 16 firearms leading to $2,906.97 in proceeds after the website’s fee.

The big-ticket item on the list was a Bushmaster Model XM-15, an AR-15 style rifle, for $415. After GovDeals.com’s 7.5 percent fee, the proceeds came to $383.88.

“Our retention is based off of the outcome of the court. We typically will not dispose of any firearm until we have an order from the courts to do so,” Gainesville Police Sgt. Kevin Holbrook said.

In the majority of cases where a gun is seized by law enforcement and the original owner is convicted, the guns are sold at auction.

“If it’s a felony conviction where the offender may not legally own a firearm, the Sheriff’s Office would dispose of the gun under a court order by selling it at auction.  If it’s a misdemeanor not involving the Family Violence Act, the offender may request their firearm(s) be returned to them,” Booth wrote in an email.

In some rare cases, Scalia said the weapon may be put into use by the department.

“If it was a high quality AR or a Glock that’s similar in make and model to what we’re carrying for issue weapons, we could put that into county use. … It would have to pass a series of inspections by our quartermaster in our training division,” he said.

The guns are turned over to the vendor for sales, and the majority of the proceeds return to the department. Booth said 10 percent will go the district attorney’s office, and the sheriff’s office’s remaining proceeds go to purchasing additional equipment.

In a small percent of cases, the defendant and their family may be able to ask the court to have the firearm returned.

“It’s in the minority but by no means uncommon. It does happen occasionally where a family member will take custody or possession of the weapon. It’s usually something they have to negotiate with the district attorney,” Scalia said.

One scenario Scalia gave would be a family heirloom found at the scene of an arrest that was unconnected to the drug trafficking of the convicted person.

In addition to the 31 firearms placed into evidence, Gainesville Police also put 35 firearms into safekeeping this year.

“Items of safekeeping are returned to the owner. Most of these are situations such as the owner is involved in a motor vehicle crash, injured and transported to the hospital. We will take the firearm and place it into safekeeping until it can be returned to the owner,” Holbrook said.

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