CNN Frets Over NRA Pressing Police Not to Destroy Confiscated Guns

Wednesday's Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN ran a report by correspondent Drew Griffin fretting over NRA-inspired laws in some "conservative" states that forbid police departments from destroying confiscated guns, with such laws aiming to encourage the police to sell the weapons and use the funds raised to help pay for law enforcement activities.

Griffin at one point hinted at the NRA having a sinister relationship with elected officeholders as he asserted that, in Tennessee, the NRA "found its own state legislator to push its own legislation."

The on-screen clock graphic counting down the hours, minutes and seconds until CNN's special town hall on guns with President Barack Obama continued running as it has done since first appearing Tuesday afternoon after the President's speech on guns.

As host Anderson Cooper introduced Griffin's report, after plugging the Obama town hall, he declared that there was a case in Minnesota in which selling confiscated guns "backfired" when someone used the guns to attack police officers, as if the gunman would not have simply acquired the weapons elsewhere. Cooper:

Tonight, we have an investigation into a gun battle that you may not be aware of: what to do with the guns that police take away from criminals. Many departments want to destroy them, but they're facing major pushback from the NRA. They think that would be wasting perfectly good guns and are on a lobbying spree trying to force the police to sell the guns they confiscate back to people. It's an idea that's already backfired at least once, nearly killing two officers in Minnesota.

After recounting the case of a mentally ill man who attacked police officers after illegally acquiring guns through a straw purchaser that were sold by a police department, Griffin moved to lament that the police had been the seller of the guns:

DREW GRIFFIN: And in a shocking twist, all three guns were being sold by the police department of Duluth, Minnesota.

SHERIFF STANEK: You know, I was very surprised, being a sheriff of a large Midwestern county, one of the largest counties in the country, to learn that a law enforcement agency had actually sold these guns online instead of destroying them or keeping them for their own purposes.

After explaining that some police departments are running out of space to store confiscated guns and would prefer to get rid of them by destroying them, Griffin complained that the NRA is pushing to put the guns "back on the street." Griffin:

And across the country, one very strong lobbying group is trying to make sure guns seized by police are actually put back on the street. That lobbying group, the National Rifle Association.

After recalling that the police chief of Knoxville, Tennessee, wanted to destroy his inventory of guns, the CNN correspondent hinted that State Senator Douglas Overbey, a Republican, is owned by the NRA as he added:

Instead, the NRA came to downtown Knoxville and found its own state legislator to push its own legislation. State Senator Douglas Overbey put forth a bill that would ban police chiefs in Tennessee from destroying any gun.

Griffin then seemed to mock State Senator Overbey's unwillingness to do an interview as the CNN correspondent continued:

The state senator told us he was too busy to talk to us about his gun today -- and tomorrow -- and the next day -- and, according to his assistant, ever.

A bit later, Griffin finally devoted a small amount of attention to the NRA's point of view as he added:

Surprisingly, the NRA is so far refusing to respond to CNN's request for an interview. But a spokesman did point out the guns are being sold to "law-abiding citizens," adding that those opposed to police gun sales are just trying to "destroy firearms for the sake of destroying them because they want to get rid of all guns."

Nearing the end of the report, the CNN correspondent introduced the last of three police chiefs included in the piece who were all critical of the NRA's efforts. Griffin:

Art Acevedo, the chief of police in Austin, Texas, says the NRA is simply on the wrong side of the law, police chiefs don't want more guns on the street and certainly don't want to be the ones who are putting them there.

Then came a clip of Chief Acevedo:

I think it's pretty easy already to buy firearms. That's part of the problem in this country. And the last thing we need is the, for the police department to become basically part of the pipeline that ends up in our inner cities and our young people are dying every day.

Closing the pre-recorded piece, Griffin finally admitted that police departments selling guns would not really have an impact on the acquisition of guns by criminals:

Each police chief interviewed for this story admits it is so easy to get guns in the U.S., whether police departments sell them or not is really not going to change things. For Chief Rauch, it's just a matter of principle and fear that his police gun sales will backfire.

The CNN correspondent then appeared live and further jabbed the NRA as he characterized the group's push to prevent the destruction of guns as "one of those solutions that didn't have a problem":

COOPER: So, Drew, a lot of police, many police chiefs seem they don't want to do this, they don't want to sell the guns, but the NRA gets these laws passed and gets the decision out of the hands of the local police. Is that accurate?

GRIFFIN: That is accurate, and that's what's upsetting these cops, Anderson. You hit it right on the head. This is one of those solutions that didn't have a problem.

After spending nearly the entire report giving a negative characterization to the NRA-backed laws, Griffin then pulled out the "conservative" label for states with such laws while omitting a "liberal" label for New York and California which do not have such laws:

COOPER: How does the NRA convince state lawmakers it's a good idea if police chiefs in the states are saying it's not?

GRIFFIN: First, this is happening in states that lean pretty conservative. This wouldn't be happening where you are right now in New York. It's not happening in California.

The CNN correspondent then admitted that the NRA had a point that the money could be used to help buy supplies for the police before repeating police chief complaints of finding the laws "infuriating." Griffin:

And what the NRA is telling these lawmakers in these states is, "Why throw away a perfectly good gun when you could sell them and then use the money to reinvest into other law enforcement activities?" And that is true, Anderson. Police departments that have sold these guns, they've been able to buy bullets for training or ballistic vests for the officers.

But, again, it's the idea that the police are being forced to sell these guns that really is infuriating these law enforcement agencies and these police chiefs about what the NRA is doing, Anderson.

Below is a complete transcript of the report from the Wednesday, January 6, Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN:

8:29 p.m.
ANDERSON COOPER: Tomorrow, I'll be questioning President Obama in a town hall meeting we're calling Guns in America. Tonight, we have an investigation into a gun battle that you may not be aware of: what to do with the guns that police take away from criminals.

Many departments want to destroy them, but they're facing major pushback from the NRA. They think that would be wasting perfectly good guns and are on a lobbying spree trying to force the police to sell the guns they confiscate back to people. It's an idea that's already backfired at least once, nearly killing two officers in Minnesota. CNN Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin reports tonight.

(BEGIN PRE-RECORDED REPORT)

DREW GRIFFIN: It happened at a city council meeting at New Hope, Minnesota, almost exactly a year ago. A routine meeting captured on the city's in-house video. New police officers had just been sworn in when the council took up its very next item. Suddenly shots, council members diving under desks. One even takes out a gun. Off camera, just outside the council chambers, a well known mentally unstable resident named Raymond Kmetz decided this was the night he'd get back at the city he'd been fighting with. Those newly sworn officers would be his targets.

Kmetz was waiting for them just as they left the council chamber, waiting for them right here, with a gun police say should have never been allowed back on the streets. It was a shotgun Kmetz fired once. The new police officers made sure he wouldn't fire again. Two officers were wounded, Kmetz killed in a hail of police bullets.

SHERIFF RICHARD STANEK, HENNEPIN COUNTY, MN: I think everybody who heard this was shocked that an individual could walk into a city council meeting where police officers were being sworn in to the next 20, 25 years of duty and service to their community and be victims of gunfire like that.

GRIFFIN: But for Sheriff Richard Stanek, the shock wouldn't end with the crime. The investigation found that Kmetz should never have had that gun. He would have never passed a federal background check. He had a history of mental illness and trouble with the city of New Hope. Yet, Raymond Kmetz was able to buy three guns illegally through a straw purchaser, a friend who was pretending to buy the guns for himself. And in a shocking twist, all three guns were being sold by the police department of Duluth, Minnesota.

SHERIFF STANEK: You know, I was very surprised, being a sheriff of a large Midwestern county, one of the largest counties in the country, to learn that a law enforcement agency had actually sold these guns online instead of destroying them or keeping them for their own purposes.

GRIFFIN: Across the country, police departments and police chiefs are finding themselves in an ethical dilemma over the same issue. In Hennepin County, Minnesota, guns from crimes are seized almost every day -- good guns worth money. Sheriff Stanek doesn't sell them; he keeps them right here, never to be on the street again, 2,600 of them and counting inside his gun library under the guise they could help in future criminal investigations and training. But other municipalities don't have the storage, have shrinking budgets, and are under growing pressure to do exactly what Duluth, Minnesota, did: sell them. And across the country, one very strong lobbying group is trying to make sure guns seized by police are actually put back on the street. That lobbying group, the National Rifle Association.

CHIEF DAVID RAUCH, KNOXVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT: We weren't seeking it, but it was brought to us.

GRIFFIN: David Rauch is the chief of the Knoxville, Tennessee, Police Department. He also heads up the statewide Police Chiefs Association in Tennessee. He says, if anything, he and his fellow police chiefs were looking for a law that would allow them to destroy the guns they confiscate. Instead, the NRA came to downtown Knoxville and found its own state legislator to push its own legislation. State Senator Douglas Overbey put forth a bill that would ban police chiefs in Tennessee from destroying any gun. The state senator told us he was too busy to talk to us about his gun today -- and tomorrow -- and the next day -- and, according to his assistant, ever.

RAUCH: The original law that the NRA brought forward would not allow us to destroy any of the firearms.

GRIFFIN: Any?

RAUCH: Right. And so we certainly were not in favor of that.

GRIFFIN: Police in Tennessee were able to water down the NRA's law which went into effect last summer. A police agency can destroy a gun but must first seek permission from a judge to do it. According to a survey conducted by CNN Money, nearly a dozen states have passed new laws in the past five years that ban or discourage police from actually destroying their confiscated guns and instead encourages them to be sold. Each law drafted or suggested by the National Rifle Association.

Surprisingly, the NRA is so far refusing to respond to CNN's request for an interview. But a spokesman did point out the guns are being sold to "law-abiding citizens," adding that those opposed to police gun sales are just trying to "destroy firearms for the sake of destroying them because they want to get rid of all guns."

GRIFFIN: Art Acevedo, the chief of police in Austin, Texas, says the NRA is simply on the wrong side of the law, police chiefs don't want more guns on the street and certainly don't want to be the ones who are putting them there.

CHIEF ART ACEVEDO, AUSTIN POLICE DEPARTMENT: I think it's pretty easy already to buy firearms. That's part of the problem in this country. And the last thing we need is the, for the police department to become basically part of the pipeline that ends up in our inner cities and our young people are dying every day.

GRIFFIN: Each police chief interviewed for this story admits it is so easy to get guns in the U.S., whether police departments sell them or not is really not going to change things. For Chief Rauch, it's just a matter of principle and fear that his police gun sales will backfire.


RAUCH: You pray hard that none of these firearms that, you know, that we are trying to, again, take care of our community, that none of them end up back in the hands of those who would harm us.

(BACK TO LIVE STUDIO)

COOPER: So, Drew, a lot of police, many police chiefs seem they don't want to do this, they don't want to sell the guns, but the NRA gets these laws passed and gets the decision out of the hands of the local police. Is that accurate?

GRIFFIN: That is accurate, and that's what's upsetting these cops, Anderson. You hit it right on the head. This is one of those solutions that didn't have a problem.
Police want to be able to destroy the guns or not destroy guns based on what their local community wishes and the local police agency decides is the best route. The NRA is removing that ability with these blanket laws that are now in about a dozen states that you must sell these guns, you can't destroy them -- period.

COOPER: How does the NRA convince state lawmakers it's a good idea if police chiefs in the states are saying it's not?

GRIFFIN: First, this is happening in states that lean pretty conservative. This wouldn't be happening where you are right now in New York. It's not happening in California.


And what the NRA is telling these lawmakers in these states is, "Why throw away a perfectly good gun when you could sell them and then use the money to reinvest into other law enforcement activities?" And that is true, Anderson. Police departments that have sold these guns, they've been able to buy bullets for training or ballistic vests for the officers.

But, again, it's the idea that the police are being forced to sell these guns that really is infuriating these law enforcement agencies and these police chiefs about what the NRA is doing, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Drew Griffin, thanks very much. Be sure to tune in tomorrow night when President Obama joins me for a town hall discussion on guns and gun control. The President's going to answer questions from me and from audience members from all sides of this issue. It's called Guns in America. Tomorrow at 8 Eastern here on 360.

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