Poachers beware: Don’t hunt with granddaddy’s gun.
Weapons seized by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency have traditionally been auctioned on the courthouse steps, giving violators who lost a family heirloom a chance to buy back their keepsake.
Those auctions will not be held again after this month, as a new state law will require seized weapons to be shipped to Nashville and sold only to licensed gun dealers.
“My advice is, if you plan to go out and violate the game and fish laws, don’t take granddaddy’s gun, because you’re not going to have the opportunity to buy that back,” said Mike Bailey, a TWRA officer in Marion County, Tenn.
Wildlife officers hold auctions in each county where items are seized. This spring’s sales will be held April 12 and April 19.
Items up for bid range from a .50 caliber muzzleloader in Bradley County to a compound bow in Morgan County and a spotlight in McMinn County.
The Tennessee General Assembly axed the auction system last year. The items TWRA will sell this month are the last lot of contraband collected before the 2007 law was passed.
State Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, was the only one of 126 lawmakers in the House or Senate who voted to keep TWRA auctions on courthouse steps. Re. Bass said keeping sales on the local level worked well and that hunters should have the opportunity to buy their guns back.
“If they want a gun, they can go get a gun. If they want that particular gun, and are willing to pay the price, why not?,” asked Rep. Bass, a former Giles County sheriff. “It’s not like we are trying to keep it out of the hands of convicted felons.”
LOWER TEMPERS, SAFER SALES
Some wildlife officers are glad they won’t have to be auctioneers anymore.
Hamilton County wildlife officer Matt Majors said the auctions don’t have the same safeguards as a gun store. TWRA auctions are open to anyone 18 or older who can legally own a weapon, but buyers only sign a form and often don’t undergo a full background check, Mr. Majors said.
“We are trying to be a little safer with the way we sell these things, which has always been a concern from our officers,” Mr. Majors said. “There are somewhat shady characters that show up to these things from time to time.”
Holding auctions on the courthouse steps can be dangerous for other reasons. Bidding wars can ensue, Mr. Majors said, especially when someone wants to regain a family heirloom.
He said there haven’t been any brawls in Hamilton County, but wildlife officers in other parts of the state have called local police to ease tensions.
“We’ve seen people squaring off at each other saying, ‘That’s my gun, I’m going to get it back,’” Mr. Majors said. “A lot of people will smile back and say, ‘Not if you don’t have the highest bid.’ It gets tense.”
IT’S JUST MORE SURPLUS
The Tennessee Department of General Services will now be the clearinghouse for items seized by wildlife officers. This will be the first time the department has sold firearms, spokeswoman Lola Potter said.
“We don't really see this as a difficulty,” Ms. Potter said in an e-mail. “Since General Services is the ‘surplus’ agency for state government, it’s really only natural that we handle these items from TWRA.”
A bill being considered this year in the General Assembly would allow the agency to sell the items on the Internet. If that measure doesn’t pass, the state will dispose of seized items through public sale or sealed bid, Ms. Potter said.
General Services will keep 15 percent of the sale proceeds and TWRA will get the rest, TWRA spokesman Don King said. He said the wildlife department netted $175,000 from contraband sales last year.
“We will be collecting less money, but will have less time invested in man-hours in the disposal of the items,” Mr. King said. “This is also going to take a lot of the personality out of it and the potential with problems with personal property.”
TWRA CONTRABAND SALES
Items seized by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will be auctioned at area courthouses on April 12 and April 19 at 10 a.m. To link to a full list of auction items, go to timesfreepress.com.