Demolishing Guns and Common Sense

Why is Chicago destroying guns?


In the course of their duties, Chicago police come into possession of all sorts of contraband: jewelry, video games, bicycles, cars. They sell the stuff through online auctions that are open to the public. They also confiscate some 10,000 firearms each year, with an estimated value of $2 million. They sell them and put the $2 million through a shredder.

Just kidding. It would be insane to shred large stacks of perfectly good money. What they actually do is destroy the guns. That way, there's no money to destroy.

This practice comes to our attention thanks to a recent report by Robert Wildeboer of WBEZ, the local affiliate of National Public Radio. At a time when the city of Chicago has reduced the size of the police force because of budget pressures, you'd think it would not lightly forgo such a handsome sum. But it does.

There is a common assumption in Chicago that guns are the equivalent of free-roaming cobras, being lethal and unmanageable by any means except elimination. The more guns, in this view, the more murders and mayhem.

This belief persists even though nationally, the number of guns in private hands has grown steadily even as the crime rate has plunged. Guns in the hands of criminals are bound to lead to senseless bloodshed. But guns in the hands of upstanding citizens are no more likely to be abused than chainsaws or baseball bats.

Ten thousand guns may sound like a lot, until you consider that Americans own an estimated 280 million firearms and buy another eight million or so every year. So the benefits are likely to be undetectable, if not imaginary.

You don't have to take my word for it. I emailed Philip J. Cook of Duke University, a leading scholar on guns who is not exactly a favorite of the National Rifle Association, to get his opinion. "It is hard for me to see that a decision by the Chicago Police to sell the guns that they confiscate would have any appreciable effect on availability of guns to youths and criminals," he replied. Adding them to the supply of guns on the market "may push down prices somewhat, but given the numbers involved that effect is likely to be negligible."

It's not as though the cops would be peddling them to random guys with neck tattoos in crime-infested neighborhoods. The guns could be sold to licensed firearm dealers, who are required to abide by federal laws banning sales to minors and felons. If it would make anyone feel better, they could even be shipped to dealers in distant states, where they are less likely to wind up back in the city limits. The Chicago Police Department could also sell the guns itself with stricter rules than the ones licensed dealers have to follow.

Not that it really matters. If a Chicagoan wants to buy a firearm, new or used, and is legally entitled to do so, he or she can easily find a local store that will be happy to make the sale.

Adam Collins, a spokesman for the police department, says it would be out of the question to resell the guns. "Any small financial gain would not justify being part of putting more firearms out on the streets," he told me.

Mark Iris, a Northwestern University political scientist who served as executive director of the Chicago Police Board, fears that selling guns instead of destroying them would undermine the Chicago Police Department's efforts to get illegal guns off the streets. "By selling guns instead of scrapping them, you send a mixed message, and that could result in a non-economic price of decreased officer attention to this issue," he says.

But does it really matter if the gun a gang member uses against an enemy was once seized by the Chicago police rather than being fresh off the assembly line? Cops, of all people, should be able to keep in mind the difference between a gun in the hands of a criminal and the same gun in the hands of a law-abiding person. They don't need to flatten stolen vehicles to retain their vigilance against car theft.

In the end, the policy is about as effective as trying to prevent drownings by bailing out Lake Michigan with a coffee mug. But it's a lot more expensive.

NEXT: Brickbat: Catfishing

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. …fears that selling guns instead of destroying them would undermine the Chicago Police Department’s efforts to get illegal guns off the streets.

    It would undermine their efforts to be the only ones armed.

  2. “Any small financial gain would not justify being part of putting more firearms out on the streets,” he told me.

    Progs are oddly and uniquely principled when it comes to guns. It’s retarded principle, but the fact that they are actually being consistent is a refreshing change of pace for them.

    1. It’s nothing of the sort. It’s just another manifestation of missing logic. In reality, those guns would be sold legally, and therefore not only not on the streets, but not be illegal. Although of course the guns themselves were never illegal in the first place, just their possession at the time, and of course that itself was only illegal by means of unconstitutional laws. But by their own logic, no, they were not illegal, only illegally possessed, and that condition would be remedied by reselling legally.

      But I ramble as I digress.

      1. “On the streets” means “in the hands of people who are not employed by the government.”

        These are people who do not see a difference between self defense and vigilante justice. All they see is force being used by someone who is not employed by the government. They see no difference between a woman carrying a gun in her bag for defense, and a gang-banger carrying a gun for a drive by.

        1. “On the streets” means “in the hands of people who are not employed by the government and issued a law enforcement badge.”

          So in order for the captian of an aircraft to carry he has to be a “flight deck officer.” Don’t want to arm the working peons.

    2. “GUNZ R ICKY” is not a principle. It’s the fetishization of inanimate objects.

  3. Cops, of all people, should be able to keep in mind the difference between a gun in the hands of a criminal and the same gun in the hands of a law-abiding person.


  4. I would rather the police go “underfunded” than save those guns. It’s not like we have a gun shortage. I can buy online instead of dealing with the state. Also I’m not sure I want the Chicago police knowing I owned firearms. Might lead to a midnight raid.

    1. I’m guessing that they’d sell them to FFL dealers, so I don’t think you’d have to worry about it. Well, except for that 4473 form that the dealer keeps…

    2. Yeah, we don’t need another asset forfeiture-style program.

    3. It’s not like we have a gun shortage.

      The hell we don’t. We have at least 62 Gun Shortage Zones in my county alone. My youngest attends one of them.

      1. Please see a thoughtful Scienfoological discussion of guns in schools (and associated issues) at ? You’re welcome!

    4. Nor is it like the police chiefs themselves think they have to follow the law.

      Many states have laws in place that say if the police recover a missing/stolen gun, unless it’s been used in a crime, they have to notify the owner so he can recover his property. Sadly, some agencies avoid notifications (one used to print them and dump them in the trash) or erect silly requirements like presenting an “original receipt” for Grandpa’s 1909 New Service revolver.

      Recovered guns can be sold to distributors nationwide. By selling only to distributors, those guns will end up spread around the country instead of returning to Chicago (or the local city). They’re required to comply with federal laws as are the local dealers. The city would rake in money for each gun and the most likely end disposition of the gun would be a documented sale through legal channels to a qualified citizen. That citizen benefits by a lower price for that gun, which may be the only way a poor person can afford a reasonably good gun.

  5. I’m sure many of those police officers have extensive and valuable gun collections. Wink wink. Nod nod.

    1. Perhaps if we sold the departmental APCs, cruisers and the armory too. Let the beat cops actually walk the beat, unarmed, and learn to deal with the community on good terms.

      1. But, but, but it’s a war out there! Officer safety!

        1. If officers want safety, they can resign from the police force.

        2. In Chicago it pretty much is, all they lack is the artillery…

    2. And I certainly never saw the IL State Police’s eclectic confiscated hoard collection when I used their firing ranges as a National Guardsman, nope, never.

    3. Yeah, exactly. Or there selling them on the street and pocketing the cash themselves. I’d be surprised if most of these guns are actually getting destroyed. I’m they have to destroy a handful just for show.

  6. I bet the gun manufacturers support this; as far as they’re concerned, it’s like the cash for clunkers program.

    The gun manufacturers don’t get any money when you buy a used gun anyway.

    1. Guns don’t wear out. The more that are destroyed, the better new sales will be.

      Gun grabbers are Glock and Smith and Wesson’s best salesmen.

    2. They don’t really care.

      The guns normally captured from criminals (or bought at buybacks) aren’t the sales leaders anyway, for the most part.

      Crime guns tend to have been stolen, naturally, and seem to get re-used by criminals until they fail from abuse or are captured or thrown away as incriminating.

      The “gun industry” is too busy selling people all the AR-15s they can make, and new tactical pistols, and expensive hunting rifles, and the like, to care that much about slightly decreasing the demand for cheap guns on the margin.

      (Contra albo, fears of “gun grabbers” [banners] are the best salesmen. Cops destroying antique or decrepit turn-ins or guns taken from actual criminals? Don’t sell a lot of new pistols.

      Common criminals aren’t mostly using nice guns, but cheap, crappy ones. Because they’re cheap.)

    3. The gun manufacturers don’t get any money when you buy a used gun anyway.

      Not directly. But if someone gets into shooting with a cheap used gun they have a tendency to move up in the market with a new one. Manufacturers are smarter than you think they are.

  7. When I worked at LTV Steel, the Cleveland cops would bring their guns to us to be melted down.

    It was a doleful thing, the cops would watch the guns until they were in the blast furnace, and that was that.

  8. but surely they wouldnt put any of the reconstituted steel from these abominations of satan in anything like a playground swingset, its steel is sullied with the blood of innocent childrenzzzzz what happens when it decides to kill again, without the means of bullets it may resort to more brutal tactics to hurt teh childrenz

  9. Like the guy said, it’s the message that counts.

  10. A gun in a criminal’s hand usually has as lively a story to tell as the criminal in regards to how it ended up in ‘the life.’

    Given that fact, that a majority of the guns CPD recovers are not legit, an interesting effort would be to backtrace the confiscated guns where possible and return them to law abiding owners. You’d probably solve some unsolved crimes along the way.

  11. If everything works like the existing laws require then I see no reason why the Chicago Police should not sell confiscated guns.

    However people don’t always follow existing laws.

    We’ve seen how police departments abuse property confiscation laws. The drug seizure laws were and are abused by law enforcement as illustrated by Louisiana law enforcement seizure of cars and cash from innocent out-of-staters who were never charged with drug offenses, but their property was.

    In addition to corrupt law enforcement improper seizure of property you have shady and illegal gun dealers who use things like straw sales to put legal guns on to the illegal gun market.

    If we could effectively protect against those two abuses I don’t think there should be any reason that the police department shouldn’t make extra money from the sale of confiscated weapons.

    1. That was my first thought, that if the CPD were able to generate revenue by selling confiscated guns, that suddenly more guns would be deemed “illegal” and confiscated to fill out their budgets.

      Perhaps their liberal derangement syndrome has actually worked in our favor just this once.

  12. Not that it really matters. If a Chicagoan wants to buy a firearm, new or used, and is legally entitled to do so, he or she can easily find a local store that will be happy to make the sale.

    Not that it really matters for a Steve Chapman article. But people reserve a right to firearm ownership barring any legal restrictions deriving only from due process. This is much different than a legal entitlement.

  13. Gun itself is the biggest threat to the entire society. Why should anyone possess gun? What’s the rationale behind guns? It only helps the gun making industry and nothing else. These guns should be banned immediately. People need jobs and not guns.

  14. The problem I see with selling guns is that it would encourage cops to confiscate guns.

  15. How does selling a legal object send any kind of mixed message about illegal objects?

    What truly DOES send a mixed message however, is the constant refrain that all guns are bad — while arming police more and more heavily every year.

  16. Illegal guns?

    They use that term not to describe actual illegal weapons, such as tommy guns etc, but to describe perfectly legal firearms that have been stolen.

    Imagine if someone went around describing items burgled from a home as “illegal televisions” or “illegal jewlery” or in the case of stolen cash “illegal money.” The absurdity is obvious.

    Yet that is precisely how they describe perfectly legal guns that have been stolen or otherwise obtained illegally.

    The simple truth is that the kleptocracy in the windy city wants a metropolis comprised of cops, criminals, and victims. Actual citizens are not desired.

  17. Part of me likes the idea that they’d destroy rather than sell the guns, because destroying them takes away an incentive they’d have to seize them to begin with. In general it’s bothered me about deodand that if the object itself is guilty, that the sovereign’s seizure of it exonerates the object, and that the sovereign can then profit by selling it; I’ve said that if property was guilty, gov’t should have to destroy it, not profit from ill-gotten gain.

  18. “It’s not as though the cops would be peddling them to random guys with neck tattoos in crime-infested neighborhoods.”
    Have you seen the cops lately they have more tattos then many street thugs and they treat their fellow citizens worse then street thugs treat their fellow citizens

  19. I would never buy a weapon from the police. If they seized it during the course of an investigation it could have been one that was used for a crime.

    What are the chances that later you could end up “in procession of an instrument of crime” or with a murder weapon?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.