In California, Confiscated Guns End Up In Foundry

fromSCPR

Authorities from Los Angeles oversaw the destruction of thousands of confiscated weapons recently. Pistols, rifles and even a bazooka were melted into raw steel. Each year, Southern California law enforcement must get rid of the thousands of guns, rifles and machine guns they confiscate.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Recently here in California, thousands of confiscated weapons were destroyed. Pistols, rifles, even a bazooka, were melted into raw steel.

From member station KPCC, Steven Cuevas has details.

STEVEN CUEVAS: The TAMCO Steel company in the city of Rancho Cucamonga started hosting these annual weapon meltdowns 16 years ago. The effort is called Project Isaiah, inspired by a biblical passage from the Old Testament.

Mr. JIM CROMPTON (Vice President, TAMCO Steel): They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

CUEVAS: TAMCO Steel vice president Jim Crompton.

Mr. CROMPTON: Our modern version: They shall melt their guns and weapons into reinforcing bar and build a community for all to live in peace and harmony.

CUEVAS: About 16,000 weapons were forged into reinforced steel rebar for use on freeways, bridges and buildings.

Mayor DONALD KURTH (Rancho Cucamonga, California): Where on earth does somebody get bazookas?

CUEVAS: Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Don Kurth stood near piles of weaponry destined for the steel plant's furnace. He marveled at the firepower on display. These weapons were confiscated during traffic stops, drug sweeps and other police actions across L.A. County. Some of the weapons turned up in police lost and found departments. That's why some gun owners grumble that law enforcement doesn't try hard enough to reunite those weapons with their rightful owners.

But Mayor Kurth is just happy to have the hardware off the streets.

Mayor KURTH: No matter where the criminals are coming from, they affect all of us. This is a regional issue. And we're thrilled to be partners with the law enforcement personnel who are out there on the streets collecting these guns, putting criminals behind bars and making sure that we've got a safer environment for all Californians.

CUEVAS: A pair of front end loaders scoop up piles of garden variety pistols and rifles, but there's also a Prohibition-era Tommy Gun, a rocket launcher and yes, even that bazooka. All are trundled off to the blast furnace.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)

CUEVAS: The porters and local officials cram themselves into a tiny control room overlooking the furnace, but you can't see or hear much. Layers of thick safety glass separate onlookers from the blasting heat and blinding glow of the furnace.

Operations manager Jamie Hansen explains what's happening.

Mr. JAMIE HANSEN (Operations Manager, TAMCO Steel): The roof of the furnace is swinging open. And we're going to bring in a bucket that's being held by a crane, and that bucket's going to open up and drop the scrap steel and the guns into the furnace.

And you can't see them through the flames right now, but there are some graphite electrodes that are about 24 inches around, sort of like a huge pencil lead, and that's what conducts the electricity, and it forms an electric arc.

So the temperature of the arc is about 10,000 degrees, which is about the same temperature of the surface of the sun. And we use about 60 megawatts of power, which is about the same as what a small power plant puts out.

CUEVAS: The melted artillery will produce several tons of reinforced steel rebar to be used for freeway upgrades and other construction across California, Arizona and Nevada.

For NPR News, I'm Steven Cuevas.

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