Where do the guns go? Inside 2018's first APD gun auction
In an effort to reduce violent crime in Alaska in 2017, Federal, State and Local law enforcement agencies banded together, starting a multi-agency initiative in August.
One of the task force strategies is charging felons caught with guns they shouldn't have in Federal Court, where they're likely to face stricter penalties.
It's a push to get and keep weapons out of the wrong hands.
But where do those guns ultimately end up?
In Alaska's largest city, thousands of guns are kept and stored as evidence by the Anchorage Police Department in an undisclosed location. Unusable firearms are destroyed and the rest go back out to the public through auctions.
A couple dozen people crowded into Grubstake Auction Company's building for the first APD gun auction of 2018 on January 13, where roughly 115 guns were given a second shot by the highest present or online bidder.
Each gun holds an untold history and an unknown future, but auctioneer Jesse Alleva says buyers don't mind the mystery.
"I think they don't think about the history at all, it's simply just a gun to them, doesn't really matter to them why it's in the auction at all," said Alleva.
The guns could have been used to commit crimes, stolen, found, confiscated, or given to APD for safe keeping and never reclaimed.
The gun auction is part of Municipal Code, which also dictates which guns will be up for sale. Any guns known to have been used in a homicide or suicide are excluded from the auction.
"I wouldn't even want to know," said Ron Breiler of the history behind a Beretta Tomcat .32-caliber pistol he purchased. "Cuz from now, on it's gonna be well behaved," he explained.
"Obviously, some people view these as if they have a life of their own and they don't. They're a mechanical device," said Breiler.
He later told KTVA he'd watch its report on the gun auction to learn the history behind his new firearm.
APD records show the pistol was seized from a felon who was on probation in 2011.
An auction previously run by Ron Alleva is now handled by his sons. Ron says he's trying to step away from the business and toward retirement, but he was still "running around somewhere" on auction day, according to his son Jesse.
"I used to have the philosophy: if the gun didn't bring $50, send it to the grinder. It's like a minimum bid, but they complained, so the Saturday night specials still have to be sold," Ron told KTVA.
Watching violence rates in Alaska and the country climb, Ron says he's wondered over the years if an auction is the best place for the guns.
"If you took it from a criminal, why would you sell it to someone on the street? They're gonna resell it to someone who becomes a criminal or is a criminal buying guns like that," he said, offering up his own idea, "I'd put em in the Inlet."
But Grubstake holds the Municipal contract and makes a healthy commission.
The Municipality of Anchorage "does really well" too, according to Ron.
The Muni made $30,000 off auctioned firearms in 2014, more than $63,000 in 2015 and more than $76,000 in 2017. According to the Office of Management and Budget, there were no auctions in 2016. The funds go into the Muni's general fund initially, then are allocated to APD later, according to the OMB.
APD turned over 278 firearms to the company in 2014, 162 in 2015, 338 guns in 2016, and 270 last year.
Some of the bidders in the crowd are dealers, meaning the guns could make their way out of Alaska. Some of the firearms will stay. And in some rare cases, Ron says they'll end up back in the auction.
"We have a lot of guns -- it's like seeing the same car -- but there was one particular large gun that came through twice."
Ron explained, after he sold it in an APD gun auction, officers chased down a suspect who dropped it while jumping a fence, and it later ended up back in his auction a second time.
"So there are stories when the guns can trickle back into the hands of the bad guys," said Ron.
His business is a certified gun dealer, runs FBI background checks on all buyers, and they do everything they can, Ron says, to promote responsible gun ownership.
Once the guns are out of his hands, all he can do is hope they don't end up back in the wrong hands.
Alaska continues to lead the nation in the number of gun deaths per capita, according to data recently finalized by the CDC. With 177 firearms related deaths in 2016, Alaska had 23.3 gun deaths per 100,000, compared to the national average of 12.
Alaska's gun death rates over the last several years have been driven by Alaska's high volume of suicides, according to a report by the Alaska Section of Epidemiology.
APD provided information for this report but declined a request for an interview.
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