More than 700 rifles, pistols and shotguns that had been seized by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and held as evidence in criminal proceedings went on the auction block Saturday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
The weapons were forfeited by court order and sold to the highest bidder. According to Sheriff’s Department Operations Commander and Public Information Officer Major Lafayette Woods Jr., the weapons were “bringing in more money” than authorities expected.
“Some of the pistols have gone for $400 to $500,” Woods said, adding that the auction was expected to generate about $120,000 for the department.
The sheriff’s department, along with the Tri-County Drug Task Force and the South Central Arkansas Law Enforcement Society, hosted the auction that was conducted by Tracy Robinson Auctioneers.
Rather than destroying the weapons, Woods said the department made the decision to put them up for sale.
“We saw this as an opportunity to increase our revenue stream,” Woods said. “Our budget was cut this year and revenue has decreased because people are moving out of the county, reducing the amount of tax money that’s collected.
“All of the money raised will go into the (County) General Fund and we hope the quorum court will allow us to use it to finish the new sheriff’s department building,” Woods said.
The Rev. Jesse Turner, executive director of Interested Citizens for Voter Registration, whose organization has campaigned against gun violence, said he had “no big issue (with the sale) if the sheriff’s department was conducting proper background checks” on buyers, and limiting the number of weapons one individual could buy.
“If they’re just buying one gun that’s probably OK but if they’re buying multiple guns and they’re not a pawn shop or dealer, there is a chance those guns will end up back on the street,” Turner said. “If the buyer is a pawn shop or gun dealer, hopefully the sales they make will be tracked.”
Woods said the sheriff’s department was “doing more than is required” to ensure the people buying the weapons were legally allowed to do so.
“We’re only required to run an N.C.I.C. (National Crime Information Center) check which would show if the prospective buyer had been diagnosed with a mental illness, been dishonorably discharged from the military, been charged or convicted of domestic violence,” Woods said.
He said the department teamed up with Webb Sporting Goods, which is located in DeWitt, and is a licensed federal firearms dealer, and representatives of that company were running instant checks on prospective buyers through the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“If somebody bid on a gun and won that bid but didn’t pass that ATF check, their money would be refunded and the gun would go back up for sale,” Woods said. “It’s just like somebody going to Walmart or a pawn shop to buy a gun.”
Turner, though, was not completely convinced.
“Handguns are where the line needs to be drawn because most of our homicides are the result of handguns,” Turner said. “We have seven times the national average of homicides in Pine Bluff.”
Woods contradicted the idea that the auction was putting guns back on the street.
“Criminals are not going to buy guns at auctions, particularly when the auction is conducted by the sheriff’s department,” he said. “They’re going to get their guns from illegal sales in the back seats of cars or behind buildings.
What we’re doing is selling guns to law-abiding citizens who have the legal right to buy a gun,” he said.
Sheriff Gerald Robinson, who deferred most of his comments about the auction to Woods, would say only “I hope we make enough money to put on the new building.”