Buried in a Wednesday Fox News story about how police sometimes wrongly seize firearms from people was a reference to a California case in which the Torrance, California Police Department wrongly destroyed 21 firearms that were family heirlooms taken and then held despite two court orders.
According to Fox, and the Daily Breeze, in the end the police department paid the victim of this wrongful property destruction $15,500. The story was covered by other publications, including Ammoland.
But in such cases, should a police agency be required to replace wrongly destroyed firearms with guns of the same make, model, caliber and condition? Say the police wrongly destroyed a well-maintained Colt Python, a classic revolver now so prized by gun collectors that they might be willing to pay as high as $2,000 for one at a gun show? In order to provide “closure” to the person whose gun they destroyed, should police be required to find a replacement, no matter what it costs the agency, and hand it over?
In an account of this egregious Torrance case published March 27, 2015, the man whose guns were destroyed told the publication, “It was a frustrating process that took years and, in the end, family heirlooms were destroyed that money can’t replace.”
There is much sentimental value in family heirlooms, even firearms. You can’t put a price tag on sentimental value. For example, grandpa’s old Model 1895 Winchester lever action may not seem like much in an era of modern sporting rifles with polymer stocks, but it was, after all, grandpa’s gun. Being forced to replace that rifle, not with a foreign-made reproduction but with an original, in the same caliber and condition – grandpa always kept his rifle in pristine condition – would be an object lesson not soon forgotten. It would make an interesting story in a local newspaper.
Sure, it might require the services of a gunsmith. Such a mandate might force an agency to deal directly with a firearms company to restore the finish on a replacement gun, including hand checkering on a wood stock. It might also require the agency to pay for custom enhancements, such as engraving or, perhaps, genuine ivory grips on a revolver.
It would have to be done in a timely manner, too.
And now the proverbial $64,000 question: If destroyed guns had been in the family for generations, should it be part of the replacement requirement that they be delivered to the owners without background checks? No registration paperwork. Full original restoration.
You cannot hunt with a check. You can’t gently handle it, carefully clean it three times a year, show it off to friends and tell stories about how it was used to provide the main course of so many family gatherings.
Published reports about the Torrance case did not identify the types of firearms destroyed. The fact that they were described as heirlooms suggests they may have been older models, perhaps with some historic value. Writing a check doesn’t require much thought. Replacing property does, with a bit of reflection and considerable inconvenience added for good measure.