Phoenix plans to give up to 600 unclaimed firearms to Ukraine police, some lawmakers object

The Phoenix City Council recently approved a plan to donate between 500 and 600 unclaimed firearms – valued at about $200,000 – to the National Police of Ukraine. (File photo by Emma Peterson/Howard Center for Investigative Journalism)

PHOENIX – Phoenix officials plan to proceed with an agreement to donate up to 600 unclaimed firearms in the city’s possession to the National Police of Ukraine, despite a request from some state lawmakers to reverse the decision.

The city council last week unanimously approved the plan, which authorizes the city manager to enter a two-year agreement with the Pennsylvania-based logistics company DTGruelle, which will transfer the firearms – valued at about $200,000 – to police in Kyiv.

Earlier this week, two Republican state lawmakers sent a letter to Mayor Kate Gallego and members of the city council, calling the plan “plainly unlawful.”

Phoenix spokesman Dan Wilson on Thursday said the city’s law team is working on a response, which will serve as its official comment on the letter. However, he did add that “the city views it differently than the way legislators view it.”

Phoenix has a 30-day policy on unclaimed property, including firearms. If nobody claims a firearm in 30 days, Phoenix can dispose of it, according to the city’s website. In this instance, Phoenix would dispose of the guns by donating them to Ukraine.

“It’s a normal process for us, with these unclaimed weapons, to move them around to other law enforcement agencies,” Wilson said. “And so, the only difference here is that the law enforcement agency is not a domestic law enforcement agency, it’s one outside the country.”

Sending unclaimed firearms to a police department overseas might be a first for Phoenix, Wilson said.

“We believe, based on the understanding of the people in the positions currently, that it has never happened before,” he said. “But we are not 100% sure. The research it would take to confirm that would be lengthy. But based on the people who have been with the department a long time, we believe this is the first time.”

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In December 2022, a proposal to continue to auction off unclaimed weapons was pulled from the city council’s agenda after Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari objected to the practice, saying the city “should not be profiting off weapons that may have been used in murders,” according to an article in The Arizona Republic.

At the time, the city had more than 3,000 firearms – either legally confiscated by Phoenix police or found, but never claimed – that were waiting for auction, the article stated. The city sets aside weapons that don’t work or have been altered, Wilson said.

In January, the council met in an executive session behind closed doors to discuss what to do next, Wilson said.

At some point, the city council had directed staff to research viable options for unclaimed firearm donation or disposal, officials said. However, it’s unclear who came up with the idea to send the weapons to Ukraine.

The U.S. Department of Commerce previously approved the National Police of Ukraine to receive unclaimed firearms from the U.S. through DTGruelle, city council spokesman Cooper Payne said in an email prior to the council vote.

James Thornton, compliance manager at DTGruelle, said that while this is the first time the company has worked with Phoenix, it conducted a similar firearms transfer with Miami in August 2022. Miami sent rifles, semi-automatic weapons and handguns, according to a NBC 6 article. In November, DTGruelle received an introduction to the city of Phoenix regarding a similar arrangement, according to an email from Thornton.

“We had gotten the city of Miami to donate us firearms through their processes,” Thornton said in a phone interview. “And then the city of Phoenix wanted to piggyback off of that and do their own initiative with us through our contact over at (the) Ukrainian parliament.”

Thornton added that the process has been lengthy.

“This has taken such a long time because of the due diligence that the city needs to take, that we need to take, in reviewing the various regulations together to ensure that we’re doing this very responsibly,” he said.

The shipping company has a number of things to do before sending the firearms to Ukraine, said Marco Gruelle, managing director at DTGruelle.

The company already has its firearms transit, export and import permits in place, which will allow the company to fly the weapons to Poland before they arrive in Ukraine. But first a representative from DTGruelle will visit Phoenix for a final inspection of the firearms before an additional inspection at the company headquarters in Moon Township, Pennsylvania.

DTGruelle and its partner nonprofit DTCare support Ukraine, according to company’s website.

The logistics company also partners with the Ukrainian Arsenal of Liberty, which will deliver the weapons to the police force, according to an email from a city spokesman.

Founded by the Ukrainian parliament, the group’s goal is to arm Ukrainian civilians against the ongoing Russian attack, by soliciting Americans, organizations and wholesalers to donate their firearms, according to the UAL website.

“We feel very strongly that an armed populace is going to be the biggest deterrent to an aggressor, which will never stop being aggressive,” Gruelle said. “Just because Putin is overthrown doesn’t mean that somebody equally or even more aggressive than him won’t come in.

“And an armed populace is going to be the most able to deal with this type of warfare. In particular, arming of women, so that they can protect the homeland while the men are fighting on the front lines. It’s really important to have that. So, we feel strongly, and we were approached by the Ukrainian Arsenal of Liberty to do this, and we agree to work with them in that capacity,” he said.

Gruelle added, however, that as part of the agreement with Phoenix, the donated firearms will only be given to Ukrainian police and are not intended for the ongoing war.

“These ones are specifically slotted because that’s what the Phoenix Police Department wanted, was to have them go to the police forces. They specifically made us agree to that,” Gruelle said in a phone interview.

The Phoenix Police Department referred questions about the agreement to Phoenix city hall.

Weapons that the city will provide to the logistics company include handguns, rifles and shotguns, Wilson said in an email. No date for the transfer has been determined.

The city will not track the firearms after DTGruelle accepts them. The company is contractually obligated as a “U.S. customs broker, freight forwarder, warehouseman, Federal Firearms Licensee, and U.S.-appointed forwarding agent for UAL, and having the proper licensing, means, and know-how to export from the U.S.A., to deliver the firearms to the designated receivers in Ukraine,” according to an email from the city.

The lawmakers, both top members of the House Judiciary Committee, who objected to the plan wrote that unclaimed firearms may only be sold – not donated – and the buyer must be authorized to receive and dispose of the firearms under state and federal law.

Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, and Rep. Selina Bliss, R-Prescott, cited several Arizona laws.

One such law, A.RS. § 13-3108(A), prohibits political subdivisions from enacting ordinances related to the possession, sale, transfer or acquisition of firearms in Arizona.

Phoenix does still have more unclaimed weapons in its possession. In February, the Phoenix City Council did vote to approve a new five-year contract with Sierra Tactical Auctions Inc. to resell unclaimed and forfeited firearms. Ansari voted against the contract, but said “we don’t really have other options right now as a city,” according to an ABC15 article.

Ole Braatelien oh-lee bratlin
News Reporter, Phoenix

Ole Braatelien expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. Braatelien is a content distributor and writer for The Western Journal and was editor-in-chief for The Voice, Glendale Community College’s student newspaper.