The Columbus Police Department is selling guns.
Under a Georgia law enacted last year, cities can no longer destroy confiscated firearms. With the exception of illegal guns, such as sawed-off shotguns, fully automatic firearms and those with serial numbers filed off, all confiscated guns must be put up for bids, said Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren.
The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police formally opposed the law while it was in the Legislature, he said.
"Local departments protested the fact that we're putting guns back on the streets," Boren said. "But it was passed by the General Assembly and it's state law now, so we have to enforce it and abide by it."
Private citizens will not be allowed to bid on the guns, Boren said. Only federally licensed firearms dealers may bid. They can bid on individual guns, several of them or the entire lot, he said.
A formal request for bids was approved by Columbus Council last Tuesday. Bids will be opened July 9, according to council's agenda.
Between now and then, dealers interested in the guns can inspect them at the Public Safety Building. In a large room there, 14 long tables hold more than 500 confiscated firearms on display for dealers to inspect. Everything from shotguns and hunting rifles to .44-caliber Smith and Wesson revolvers to 9 mm pistols to little derringers are displayed.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, as public safety director, agrees with Boren that it's a shame to return the guns to the streets. She said Boren invited her to the Public Safety Building to see the display, which she called a "somber moment."
"One of the things we talked about was that these are guns that were taken out of the hands of criminals, and we hope and pray they don't find their way back into their hands," Tomlinson said. "It took a lot of hours, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, to get them off the street, and now we're putting them back out there."
Command Sgt. Steve Wise, who was overseeing the firearm display last week, said most of the dealers who have contacted the department expressing interest in the sale of guns have been from the metro Atlanta area. He said if the guns have to be sold back onto the streets, hopefully those streets will be in another city.
"We'd prefer they go to Hawaii," he said.