Gun owner says police violating his rights
By Andrew Barksdale
George Boggs thought he was doing police a favor last week when he handed over the firearm he kept in his car after he was in a wreck.
Boggs has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and he wanted his handgun secured while he went to the hospital, he said. The permit requires him to notify police of his weapon.
On Monday, when he went to the Fayetteville Police Department to retrieve his gun, he couldn't get it back. He was told that police first wanted to fire the gun to see if the spent shell casing and round would match data in a nationwide ballistics inventory used to solve crimes.
The gun is scheduled to be test-fired today, he was told.
Boggs complained to police supervisors that his new gun has never been fired. The ballistics test, he said, would diminish the value of the .45-caliber Taurus Millennium he bought last month for $399 at a local gun store.
He said the city is violating his Fourth Amendment rights that protect him from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Police defend their decade-old policy of checking most handguns that come into their custody - no matter the reason - to see if they have been used in a crime. They say public safety outweighs any inconvenience to the owner.
Boggs said he did nothing wrong. He was not arrested. The gun was not taken from a crime scene. The other driver in the Aug. 14 accident was cited, a police report says.
"If they can get away with this, then they can get away with other things," he said.
Boggs, 70, is a retired Army sergeant first class who is running for City Council this fall against incumbent Robert Massey in District 3. He said his fight over the police policy is not politically motivated.
Sgt. John Somerindyke said in situations such as this, police can't assume a weapon has never been used.
"We have to be consistent with our policy," he said. "We have had some hits doing this."
Somerindyke said that since 2003, the ballistics tests have identified 32 guns that were used in crimes in Cumberland County.
Since 1999, the Police Department has sent most handguns taken into custody to the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, where the ballistics examination is done free for law enforcement agencies. The information is entered into the Integrated Ballistics Identification System, which is like a database of fingerprints for guns. Shell casings recovered at crime scenes can be matched with guns previously entered into the database.
Since January, the police agency has sent 331 guns and 315 shell casings and rounds to the Sheriff's Office for testing.
Boggs said he is talking with officials at the National Rifle Association about his situation. A representative of the NRA could not be reached for comment this week.
Tiffanie Sneed, the Police Department's lawyer, said the gun-testing policy helps make the community safer. People sometimes buy guns not knowing they have been used in crimes. The weapons are returned to their owners if the tests show they were not used in crimes, she said.
"Due to the gravity of the subject matter, we don't deviate from this policy, as long as the weapon meets the IBIS criteria," she said.
Boggs said others with concealed-weapon permits could be less likely to tell police they have a gun, for fear of it being taken and tested.
According to Debbie Tanna, a Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, all firearms are tested at the factory before being sent to dealers. Bernard Barr, who helps manage Guns Plus in Spring Lake, said he doesn't believe that's true. Some manufacturers don't test weapons before shipping them, he said. That includes the Taurus Millennium model that Boggs bought, he said.
Barr said firing a new weapon for ballistics doesn't necessarily lower its value.
Barr said he personally has no qualms with the police testing weapons seized as evidence - but not guns voluntarily surrendered for safe-keeping.
"It's like taking DNA from every citizen," he said. "Why investigate something that is not a crime? It just doesn't make sense."
Staff writer Andrew Barksdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3565.