Police look to expand pawnshop oversight onto touchy turf — shops that buy used guns
By Rick Smith
CEDAR RAPIDS — Pawnshop owners have a point, police Lt. Kenneth Washburn says.
Why, the shop owners have asked, should the Police Department require pawnshop owners to document for police inspection every used item the pawn shops purchase when other stores buy used items that might as easily have been stolen?
The sense of the argument, however, has sent the Police Department into swampy territory — to the three non-pawnshop stores in Cedar Rapids that buy used guns.
Washburn this week said the department is studying the possibility of requiring the three stores to submit lists of used guns they buy and of the people they buy them from, just as the department requires pawnshops to do with everything they buy.
He said the department wants to compare the guns against lists of stolen guns, and it wants to see if those selling guns had owned them illegally because of criminal records or some other disqualifying reason.
Arlan Stegen, longtime owner of the Sports Outfitters gun shop, 5717 16th Ave. SW, will have none of it.
"It's such an asinine law. It's so ridiculous," Stegen said this week. "I'm going to fight it, and if it ever gets through, I'm not going to obey it. If it ever gets through, I'll get the NRA and everyone else on them."
Andrew Jennison, the National Rifle Association's lobbyist for the state of Iowa, says he doesn't like the Police Department idea either.
"I'm very skeptical and hesitant anytime I hear of a database of gun owners or previous gun owners, whether it be run by the local government and police or the federal government," Jennison said this week from NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Va.
He pointed out that Iowa is a "preemption state" and that any new Cedar Rapids gun enforcement would need to satisfy state law. The applicable Iowa code section, he added, is this: "A political subdivision of the state shall not enact an ordinance regulating the ownership, possession, legal transfer, lawful transportation, registration, or licensing of firearms when the ownership, possession, transfer, or transportation is otherwise lawful under the laws of this state."
Matt Schrantz, president of Great Outdoor Traditions, 3338 Center Point Rd. NE, said Thursday that he can see Stegen's point, but he added that his worry is different. What if a gun is found to have been stolen? Schrantz asked. Then, he suspected, the Police Department will confiscate the gun, and the store will be out hundreds of dollars.
Why, he wondered, can't the department give the store a way to check if a gun is stolen before the store buys it?
David Ewald, spokesman for the Gander Mountain stores in St. Paul., Minn., this week said he had not heard of local law enforcement agencies wanting to examine what and from whom Gander Mountain stores buy used guns.
He noted that Gander Mountain, with 114 stores, including one in Cedar Rapids, is the largest or second largest retailer of guns in the nation. As a matter of policy, the stores "cooperate fully both on the federal and local level to the extent we can," Ewald said.
But as for the Cedar Rapids Police Department proposal, he said, "I'm not sure that it would, a) be necessary, and b) would prevent what local law enforcement might be trying to prevent."
Both chain stores have visited with the Police Department about the idea.
Washburn noted that the department isn't just picking on the three stores that buy used guns. The department also is proposing to extend its pawnshop-like oversight to several stores that buy and sell used CDs, DVDs and computer games, he said.
Stegen noted that the government's role in documenting the buying and selling of guns long has been a touchy national issue. What the Police Department is proposing, he said, is akin to a gun registration list, which would include private citizens who have owned guns legitimately and have sold them legally.
Washburn said the department does that now for used guns at a couple of the local pawnshops.
Stegen shot back, saying criminals who have stolen guns don't come to stores that buy and sell guns. Stolen guns, he argued, command a higher price on the street than they do in a gun shop. Such guns, he said, are of great value because, unlike guns purchased legitimately, they can't be traced back to the buyer, Stegen said.
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