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AG says Phoenix firearm donation to Ukraine is illegal 


AG says Phoenix firearm donation to Ukraine is illegal 

Sep 20, 2023 | 6:08 pm ET
By Caitlin Sievers
AG says Phoenix firearm donation to Ukraine is illegal 
Photo by © Aristide Economopoulos/for NJ Monitor

The City of Phoenix’s donation of more than 500 firearms to the National Police of Ukraine last month was illegal, according to Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes. 

The city already transferred 500-600 unclaimed firearms to Gruelle, a private company based in Philadelphia, which was set to deliver those firearms — worth around $200,000 — to the Ukrainian National Police in Kyiv. 

The Phoenix City Council in late June approved the ordinance allowing the firearms donation, and it executed its contract with Gruelle on Aug. 4.

That was after Rep. Quang Nguyen, of Prescott Valley, and Rep. Selina Bliss, of Prescott — both Republicans — wrote a letter to the Phoenix City Council July 3, asking it to rescind its ordinance because it violated state law. When Phoenix refused to do so, Nguyen and Bliss filed a complaint with Mayes, a Democrat, which required her office to investigate whether the ordinance violated the state law governing the disposal of unclaimed firearms

They challenged Phoenix’s ordinance using what’s known as an SB1487 complaint, named after a 2016 law that permits any legislator to ask the attorney general to review an action by any municipality or county if they believe that action violates state law. 

Mayes on Wednesday concluded that the ordinance violates state law, so Phoenix must either forfeit all the income tax money that the state shares with cities and towns — around $680 million — or repeal or amend the ordinance to come into compliance with state law. 

“I’m deeply disappointed that the Attorney General’s opinion does not aid us in our work to reduce gun violence,” Mayor Kate Gallego, a Democrat, told the Arizona Mirror in a statement. “We will vote soon to come into compliance with the Attorney General’s opinion. State leaders must do better to prioritize public safety and give cities the tools to keep guns used in violent crimes from re-entering our communities.”

A spokeswoman for the city did not immediately answer questions from the Mirror about the current location of the firearms and when or how they would be returned to Phoenix. 

“We appreciate the Attorney General’s report affirming the City of Phoenix ordinance’s violation of state law,” Nguyen and Bliss said in a joint statement. “It is frustrating that Mayor Kate Gallego and Councilmembers were informed of this as far back as July 3, yet Mayor Gallego then willfully disregarded state law and rushed the transfer of these firearms abroad. Then, while a pending investigation into the ordinance’s legality was underway, the City attempted to cancel the arrangement altogether to avoid the Attorney General’s report. That’s not leadership, it’s shameful. As public officials, it is imperative that we uphold the rule of law and respect our state constitution. Witnessing Mayor Gallego blatantly neglect this responsibility, especially with full awareness of the law and its implications, is disheartening.”

The city told the attorney general that it planned to consider whether to repeal the ordinance during its next meeting, set for today, but the ordinance and its repeal are not listed on the public agenda for the meeting. City spokesman Dan Wilson told the Mirror that city staff are in the process of reviewing the attorney general’s opinion, and that the City Council will consider repealing the ordinance during its Sept. 26 meeting.

“While no statute affirmatively bars donations, the Phoenix Ordinance is nonetheless unlawful to the extent it conflicts with state law mandating how cities must dispose of firearms,” Mayes wrote. 

State law says that an agency in possession of an unclaimed firearm must sell the firearm to a business authorized to receive and dispose of it, in compliance with state and federal law. Arizona law does not address donations of firearms, but says that the business that purchases the unclaimed firearms must sell them to the public. 

“If it is a stretch to characterize the City’s transfer to Gruelle as a sale, it is a larger leap to apply this characterization to the subsequent donations to a Ukrainian nonprofit organization, Ukrainian citizens, and law enforcement,” Mayes wrote. 

Mayes also disagreed with Phoenix’s likening the firearm donation to then-Gov. Doug Ducey’s donation of surplus military equipment to Ukraine last year, saying that different laws govern equipment donations and firearm donations and that Ducey had a different legal authority as the governor than Phoenix does as a city. 

The city has 30 days to resolve the ordinance’s violation of state law, the attorney general’s office said in the opinion. 

“While the Office believes that controlling legal authorities compel this conclusion, this report should not be construed as a rebuke of the public spirit underlying the City’s desire to aid Ukraine or as an endorsement of the policy underlying Arizona’s firearms disposition statutes,” Mayes wrote. “Nor should it discourage future support and donations to Ukraine or elsewhere that can be carried out in compliance with Arizona law.”