Starting in 2001, Maine required handguns used in homicides to be destroyed when they are no longer needed for evidence. Before that, says the New York Times, guns were often sold or auctioned by police departments to raise money for other equipment. Gun control advocates, gun rights supporters, and law enforcement officials believe Maine is the only state where the police allow victims’ relatives to watch a gun’s destruction. The acts of witness are arranged informally by the police, not spelled out in the law.
Supporters of the law, including the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, acknowledge destroying such weapons takes only a few guns out of circulation in a low-crime state like Maine. The requirement that crime guns be destroyed reflects a trend among police departments nationwide. A few states, including New York and Wisconsin, require at least some guns to be destroyed; others, like Washington, have rescinded bans on destroying guns used in crimes. Several cities have passed ordinances to prevent crime guns from being sold, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution six years ago encouraging police departments to destroy guns used in crimes. Gene Voegtlin, the association’s legislative counsel, said, “Did police agencies really want to be in a situation where they were offering guns back to the public? A lot of the weapons that are confiscated aren’t necessarily the highest quality, so there are some safety issues involved, liability issues involved.”