Arizona AG says Phoenix firearm donation to Ukraine is illegal

The City of Phoenix’s donation of
more than 500 firearms to the National Police of Ukraine last month was
illegal, according to Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes. 

The city already transferred 500-600
unclaimed firearms to Gruelle, a private company based in Philadelphia,
which was set to deliver those firearms — worth around $200,000 — to the
Ukrainian National Police in Kyiv. 

The Phoenix City Council in late June approved the ordinance allowing the firearms donation, and it executed its contract with Gruelle on Aug. 4.

That was after Rep. Quang Nguyen, of
Prescott Valley, and Rep. Selina Bliss, of Prescott — both Republicans —
wrote a letter to the Phoenix City Council July 3, asking it to rescind
its ordinance because it violated state law. When Phoenix refused to do
so, Nguyen and Bliss filed a complaint with Mayes, a Democrat, which required her office to investigate whether the ordinance violated the state law governing the disposal of unclaimed firearms

They challenged Phoenix’s ordinance
using what’s known as an SB1487 complaint, named after a 2016 law that
permits any legislator to ask the attorney general to review an action
by any municipality or county if they believe that action violates state
law. 

Mayes on Wednesday concluded that the ordinance violates state law,
so Phoenix must either forfeit all the income tax money that the state
shares with cities and towns — around $680 million — or repeal or amend
the ordinance to come into compliance with state law. 

“I’m deeply disappointed that the
Attorney General’s opinion does not aid us in our work to reduce gun
violence,” Mayor Kate Gallego, a Democrat, told the Arizona Mirror in a
statement. “We will vote soon to come into compliance with the Attorney
General’s opinion. State leaders must do better to prioritize public
safety and give cities the tools to keep guns used in violent crimes
from re-entering our communities.”

A spokeswoman for the city did not
immediately answer questions from the Mirror about the current location
of the firearms and when or how they would be returned to Phoenix. 

“We appreciate the Attorney General’s
report affirming the City of Phoenix ordinance’s violation of state
law,” Nguyen and Bliss said in a joint statement. “It is frustrating
that Mayor Kate Gallego and Councilmembers were informed of this as far
back as July 3,
yet Mayor Gallego then willfully disregarded state law and rushed the
transfer of these firearms abroad. Then, while a pending investigation
into the ordinance’s legality was underway, the City attempted to cancel
the arrangement altogether to avoid the Attorney General’s report.
That’s not leadership, it’s shameful. As public officials, it is
imperative that we uphold the rule of law and respect our state
constitution. Witnessing Mayor Gallego blatantly neglect this
responsibility, especially with full awareness of the law and its
implications, is disheartening.”

The city told the attorney general
that it planned to consider whether to repeal the ordinance during its
next meeting, set for today, but the ordinance and its repeal are not listed on the public agenda for the meeting. City spokesman Dan Wilson told the Mirror that city
staff are in the process of reviewing the attorney general’s opinion,
and that the City Council will consider repealing the ordinance during
its Sept. 26 meeting.

“While no statute affirmatively bars
donations, the Phoenix Ordinance is nonetheless unlawful to the extent
it conflicts with state law mandating how cities must dispose of
firearms,” Mayes wrote. 

State law says that an agency in
possession of an unclaimed firearm must sell the firearm to a business
authorized to receive and dispose of it, in compliance with state and
federal law. Arizona law does not address donations of firearms, but
says that the business that purchases the unclaimed firearms must sell
them to the public. 

“If it is a stretch to characterize
the City’s transfer to Gruelle as a sale, it is a larger leap to apply
this characterization to the subsequent donations to a Ukrainian
nonprofit organization, Ukrainian citizens, and law enforcement,” Mayes
wrote. 

Mayes also disagreed with Phoenix’s likening the firearm donation to then-Gov. Doug Ducey’s donation of surplus military equipment
to Ukraine last year, saying that different laws govern equipment
donations and firearm donations and that Ducey had a different legal
authority as the governor than Phoenix does as a city. 

The city has 30 days to resolve the ordinance’s violation of state law, the attorney general’s office said in the opinion. 

“While the Office believes that
controlling legal authorities compel this conclusion, this report should
not be construed as a rebuke of the public spirit underlying the City’s
desire to aid Ukraine or as an endorsement of the policy underlying
Arizona’s firearms disposition statutes,” Mayes wrote. “Nor should it
discourage future support and donations to Ukraine or elsewhere that can
be carried out in compliance with Arizona law.”