May 22, 2014 10:27:33 AM
At their Tuesday council meeting, Columbus councilmen passed a resolution in support of their previous action of purchasing and disposing of firearms purchased during the city's gun buy-back program last year. The resolution was passed in response to a complaint filed with the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor.
City officials did not elaborate on the motive for their resolution, but Brett Kittredge of the state auditor's office confirmed Wednesday the office has received a complaint related to the program and is investigating. Kittredge said the complaint was related to the city's authority to use general funds to purchase firearms and destroy them.
Councilmen agreed in February 2013 to set aside $10,000 in its general fund for the program, which allowed city residents to trade in their guns for cash. Columbus Police Department hosted the event. The city bought 64 firearms for an average price of $156.25 before the money ran out in just four hours. The guns were later destroyed.
The resolution passed Tuesday acknowledges the council's approval of the destruction of the guns. The resolution states the council determined returning the weapons to the public marketplace would have been counterproductive and neglectful, given the risks for selling possibly defective guns. It also states that cleaning and repairing the guns so they could be resold presented a liability and extra cost for city. The city concluded that the fair market value of each weapon was zero.
At the time of the buy-back, there was no legislation concerning municipalities or counties conducting buy-back programs, Kittredge said.
City attorney Jeff Turnage declined comment on Tuesday's board action but emailed a copy of the resolution to The Dispatch.
In this year's session, the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill sponsored by House member Gary Chism, R-Columbus, that prohibits city and county governments from participating in "any program in which individuals are given a thing of value provided by another individual or entity in exchange for surrendering a firearm" unless there is an ordinance in place authorizing participation in such a program. Even then, the ordinance must require that any firearm received is offered for sale at an auction with the proceeds reverting to the general fund, House Bill 314 states. Firearms not sold at an auction than then be destroyed.
Tuesday's city council resolution passed by a 3-1 vote. Vice-Mayor Gene Taylor was presiding over the meeting in the absence of Mayor Robert Smith and did not vote. Councilman Kabir Karriem left the council meeting early and was not present for the vote. Joseph Mickens, Charlie Box and Bill Gavin voted in favor with Marty Turner opposed.
Karriem, a vocal proponent of last year's program, declined comment because investigation of the complaint is ongoing, but he said he still stands by the program.
Karriem told The Dispatch in June 2013 that if the city's investment saved one life, the program was justified.
"We have to be more proactive," Karriem said last June. "We don't need to wait until a tragedy happens to do something about guns."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.