published Sunday, April 8th, 2012

McMinn County auctions 445 seized firearms

Sgt. Tim Carver, left, and Sgt. Greg Earps sort guns for the auction.
Sgt. Tim Carver, left, and Sgt. Greg Earps sort guns for the auction.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

ETOWAH, Tenn. -- It was a different kind of gunfight in Etowah on Saturday as about 400 people held up cards in a bidding war to buy firearms from the McMinn County Sheriff's Office property room.

The law enforcement agency pulled 445 firearms dating back to the 1970s from its evidence room, Sheriff Joe Guy said as he stood before the crowd at Bid To Buy Auction.

Guy held up rifles and handguns, pulling back the slides for potential buyers to see as auctioneers rattled off escalating numbers.

"I feel like it's my responsibility to make them available for sale," Guy said. "We take them from lawbreakers and make them available for law-abiding citizens. ... A well-armed, law-abiding populace makes my job easier."

State lawmakers two years ago made it legal for law enforcement agencies to auction firearms and use the proceeds to buy equipment.

McMinn County has 35 patrol deputies and another 35 who watch over the jail. Patrol deputies are required to buy their own service weapons and have a choice of .45-caliber, .40-caliber or .357-caliber handguns, Guy said. That could be problematic if officers got into a shoot-out and needed to share ammo, he said.

He hoped the auction raised enough money to buy firearms he can issue through the department. If there's money left over, Guy said, he will also try to buy body armor for deputies and set aside any remaining money for future use.

Everything from antique rifles engraved with swastikas to sleek .40-caliber handguns were up for sale.

"We've got something for everybody," Guy said. "There's things for collectors, gun enthusiasts and things for home protection."

All the guns were from closed cases or had been turned over by residents, Guy said.

Many of the buyers were local, but some traveled more than an hour to attend the auction.

Jason Pendergrass, 38, of Dayton, Tenn., purchased a Magnum .22-caliber handgun for $230. He said he wanted a gun to carry for protection.

"If I take my family to Chattanooga, there's a lot of gang violence," he said. "It's spread out to other areas. ... It's getting to Hixson. It's getting to everybody."

Pendergrass said he was glad to see the law change to open up more gun sales in the state like the one Saturday.

"It brings back money for law enforcement. People who are buying guns here are law-abiding citizens. It's not just an open sale. ... You have to go through a background check."

Auction staff said only two people failed background checks when they were run through the system about halfway through the auction.

Shanna Becker, 29, of Etowah, was looking for a hunting rifle.

But when a Taurus .22-caliber lady's handgun with a pearl handle caught her eye, she stuck up her card to attract the auctioneer's attention and made an impulse buy.

"I wanted it because it was cute," she said.

A total figure of money raised wasn't available Saturday afternoon.

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