How to Get Rid of a Gun
Safe, legal choices for giving up unwanted firearms.
One morning some years ago, I stopped by the CATALYST office on trash day. John deJong invited me to walk out to the curb with him and when he opened the lid of his trash can, I was astonished to see a shotgun inside! Why it was there, where it had come from, John didn’t know. But he was sure of one thing: This was not the way to dispose of an unwanted firearm.
A host of questions
The question of what to do with an unwanted gun unveils a host of other questions. Why do you want to get rid of it? What kind of gun is it? What is it worth? In today’s market a workable firearm in good condition might sell for thousands of dollars, and even parts of old or broken guns can be sold for repairs.
If you feel uncomfortable selling an unwanted gun to a stranger, consider gifting it to a responsible friend or relative who is a hunter/shooter. About 45% of Utah’s families own guns and Utah hunters are a dime a dozen. Strike up a conversation with someone who knows about firearms.
Does it hold any historic or family value? Is it a WWII Luger that Uncle Henry brought back from Germany?
Ask Uncle Henry, while his mind is still good, what he wants done with his sidearm. One of my elderly relatives, a Korean War veteran, had two strokes and developed dementia. Having a reasonable discussion about his guns became impossible. I helped sneak them out of his closet to a friend’s safe.
A firearms dealer can help you assess the market value of a firearm. There are about 650 federally licensed dealers in Utah, ranging from individual collectors to pawn shops to full-service facilities with a gunsmith. There are more than 40 firearms dealers in Salt Lake City. If you intend to ship a gun out of state, it must be done through a licensed dealer. Dealers are also sources for trigger locks, safes and other secure means of storing firearms. Anyone owning a firearm assumes responsibility to keep it out of unwanted hands. An inexpensive trigger or cable lock will render a gun temporarily inoperable, but steel safes and lock boxes are the most secure option against loss and misuse. If not stored in a safe, ammunition is locked in a separate location.
Involving the police
If your need to have the gun removed is urgent—a gun showed up in your trash or you have an unstable person in the home, for instance —call Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) dispatch: 801-799-3000.
“Obviously if someone has a troubled person in the house, we don’t want that person to have access” to firearms, said Sgt. Brandon Shearer, a 15-year veteran and spokesman for SLCPD.
The police will remove an unwanted gun from your residence upon request. SLCPD also can assist you in moving firearms to a secure site—like a relative’s gun safe. Call SLCPD at 801-799-6397 with any non-urgent questions about unwanted firearms.
Over the past two decades, numerous local police departments and state agencies around the country have held temporary gun buybacks offering cash or other incentives for surrendering a firearm, no questions asked. Such altruistic programs are designed to help take guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and individuals at risk of harming themselves or another.
In 1993, SLCPD ran a buyback. I turned in a poorly made small-caliber handgun that frequently jammed, a prime candidate to be melted down (most buybacks destroy the guns collected). I received $25 and a free trigger lock worth about $20.
A second buyback was held in Salt Lake City during 1996, bringing in 264 guns compared to 1,125 three years earlier.
More than 25 years later, gun buybacks seem not to be on local radar. Sgt. Shearer said that a buyback was not in the department’s current budget. “These are often paid for with a grant or financed by a corporate sponsor,” he noted.
Typically, buybacks net a bunch of old, broken firearms, small-caliber handguns, and long guns used for hunting. Few and far between are the rapid-fire assault-type weapons and large-caliber handguns often used in crimes. A buyback held in Newark, New Jersey, last July addressed this discrepancy by paying $100 for shotguns and $200 for assault-type weapons.
While there are pros and cons to buybacks, they do initiate conversation, help educate the public about gun safety and empower individuals to take action against local gun violence.
If a community philanthropist or business owner approached SLCPD wanting to sponsor another buyback, the department would seriously consider the offer, said Sgt. Shearer.
Make a lamp
Often overlooked is the option to make your gun inoperable and keep it. To make a gun legally and permanently inoperable, you’ll need to weld the action shut and weld the action to the barrel, then fill the barrel with cement.
After doing this to Uncle Henry’s prized WWII Luger, you can mount it on a plaque and hang it in the den. Online stories tell of war veterans making table lamps out of their rifles.
Marlin Stum is a freelance writer who grew up hunting with his father in Utah.
Urgent gun removal questions: Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) dispatch: 801.799.3000
Non-urgent questions about
unwanted firearms: SLCPD, 801.799.6397