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Veto Override Gives Police Agencies a New Weapon in Their Budget Arsenals

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Special Report: Special Session 2007: Budget Crisis

By Rick Docksai
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007

ANNAPOLIS - While the just-ended General Assembly special session focused on bills to collect or cut hundreds of millions of dollars, Mike Canning was most focused on a measure that had about a $350 price tag.

Canning, executive director of the Maryland Sheriff's Association, is applauding lawmakers' override of a veto that will let police departments sell their old guns back to manufacturers.

Before the bill, departments were required to destroy the weapons they no longer wanted or give them to other law enforcement agencies.

Gov. Martin O'Malley had vetoed the bill in May, saying in his veto message that "police weapons should not be made potentially available outside of the law enforcement community" by being resold.

But lawmakers easily overrode the veto, unanimously in the Senate and by a vote of 135-4 in the House of Delegates.

It was the only veto override in the special session and the first of O'Malley's tenure as governor.

The new law will take effect Dec. 13, or 30 days after the veto override. Canning said it will give departments a chance to recoup some of the costs of their weapons, money they can use to buy newer and better guns.

"It's an economic issue and a police officers' safety issue," Canning said.

He said that police departments can expect to get about 50 percent of a gun's retail price in a buyback. With most items in the catalogs of Beretta and Glock, two popular police gun manufacturers, going for $500 to $700, a department could expect to get $250 to $350 for every one it sold back, he said.

"You take an agency with 100 officers and they get $350 trade in -- you're talking about a $35,000 swing," he said. "That could be the difference between being able to upgrade or not."

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Larry Haines, R-Carroll, said he was particularly mindful of police department expenses in light of the state deficit and the possibility that they could lose funds next year.

"They're on very tight budgets and every dollar they can save is important to them," Haines said this month.

Not all law officers think it is worth it. The International Association of Chiefs of Police officially prefers that police destroy any firearms they do not intend to use.

"The recirculation of these firearms back into the general population increases the availability of firearms which could be used again to kill or injure additional police officers and citizens," reads an association resolution.

But Jeff Reh, general counsel for Beretta, said many old police firearms actually end up at other departments.

"A lot of departments don't actually buy the firearms for their officers. They allow the officers to buy their own firearms," Reh said. "This allows a police officer to buy a quality firearm, but at a discounted price."

Reh said manufacturers will turn all traded-in weapons over to distributors, who will farm them out to dealers for resale. He noted that both distributors and manufacturers are licensed by the government to sell weapons.

"Every step of the transaction is approved by law enforcement authorities before it occurs," he said.

Robert Keefer, chief deputy of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, said his department is glad to have the buyback option.

"We do trade in our weapons, and because of this bill, we can get a good price on replacement weapons. Before, we had to pay the full contract price and then destroy them. With this, we can get credit and save taxpayers money," he said.

Keefer is not alone among Maryland police.

At hearings on the bill earlier this year, Capt. Scott Yinger of the Maryland State Police Academy and Col. Thomas Hutchins, then-superintendent of the state police, both testified for the bill. So did representatives of the Maryland Sheriff's Association, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and some local police agencies.

"The legislation was interesting because we didn't really do anything to promote it," Reh said. "The impetus appeared to come from the law enforcement community. And it was really an economic funding issue."

Copyright 2007 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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