Cops get to chopping on guns

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Capt. Patrick Whitney of the Clovis Police Department makes a second cut through a rifle Friday afternoon at the police department. The guns are destroyed to keep them off the streets, Whitney said.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

A sawed-off shotgun, a pearl-handled pistol, a rifle complete with leather shoulder strap — one by one they were clamped into a vice and a circular metal blade ended their usefulness.

For more than an hour, parts of guns taken off Clovis streets were tossed into a box outside the evidence room at the Clovis Police Department.

Capt. Patrick Whitney and Evidence Technician Wendell Blair destroyed more than 40 firearms Friday.

Guns are sent to the chopping block for several reasons, Whitney said. Most have been taken from individuals prohibited from owning firearms. In some instances an owner cannot be located and in others the firearms have been modified illegally for concealment and must be destroyed.

A background check is done before firearms are returned to citizens. It’s a modern twist, Blair said, explaining in days gone by, guns were often returned to the person they were taken from when a case was over.

The department moved away from that practice after examining the liability of returning the weapons, he said.

Ideally, Blair said the department would rather return an item to its rightful owner, so every effort is made to find owners before destroying something, but he admitted often there are no other options.

“We’re not cold. We take a look at things and we try to do what we can,” Blair said.

“If (the person) is prohibited from owning a firearm, (the gun) goes in that pile right there.”

The law allows few options besides destruction, and the guns must be carefully documented. Blair explained departments are allowed to hold an auction, selling only to federally licensed firearms dealers but said there aren’t enough dealers in the area to justify an auction.

A gun enthusiast himself, Whitney said he often feels a twinge of regret as he destroys a collectible or high-dollar gun.

“I’d rather chop them than have them on the street and used against other people, citizens or officers,” he said.

It takes time to clear a weapon for destruction. A destruction order must be signed by a district judge for each case in which evidence is to be disposed of, Blair explained.

“There’s a triple-check on it to make sure it’s not needed,” he said.

When an item is targeted for destruction, a memo is sent to the officer assigned to the case, Blair said. If the officer signs off that the evidence is no longer needed, a similar memo is sent to the district attorney’s office. Once those steps are taken, a judge signs an order and the item is slated for destruction.

Blair said obtaining a destruction order can take anywhere from a week to six weeks.

The guns destroyed Friday had been held in evidence at the police department for more than six years in some cases, he said.

The department has destroyed about 80 guns so far this year and still has about 500 guns in evidence, he said.