CLAFLIN — Tuesday afternoon, four guns that had been on loan to the Claflin Police Department from the U.S. General Services Agency for the past 15 years were destroyed under the watchful eye of Tim Hutley, a program specialist from the Kansas Dept. of Administration.
Even though Claflin Police Chief Gary Vaughan complied with the order to arrange for their destruction, he swore he would not do so quietly.
The Navy veteran with 38 years of law enforcement experience opposed the order on two levels, he said. One, as a law enforcement professional with an understanding of the importance guns like the ones his department was returning could mean for officers in the field, and two, as a taxpayer whose hard earned dollars had been spent by the department of defense on their purchase.
“I’m not done with this,” he said, vowing to raise awareness of the practice.
15 years of care
According to Hutley, his department is the state agency that administers federal surplus property for the U.S. General Services Agency. The GSA loaned guns retired from the U.S. military to Claflin’s police department back in 2002, as part of the Law Enforcement Support Organization (LESO) 1033 Program. For the past 15 years, a representative from the Kansas Dept. of Administration has visited the Claflin Police Department on annual basis to inspect the guns to ensure they remained with the assigned department and in good working condition.
At the 2016 annual gun inspection, Chief Vaughan learned from program consultant Dennis McCartney that changes were coming. As part of the Obama administration’s order to demilitarize police departments, there would be increased paperwork and required online training in order for the department to continue to use the guns.
“I’ll be the first person to tell you I didn’t trust the Obama administration, and the last thing I wanted for our department was to get caught up in red tape,” Vaughan said. He went to the Claflin City Council with a request.
“I asked them for permission to purchase two new 9mm pistols to replace these, and that we already had enough shotguns, so we didn’t need those either,” he said. The council gave him the okay, and after he purchased the two pistols from a local dealer he contacted McCartney and informed him he could pick up the guns because the Claflin PD had no further use for them. That was a little over a year ago.
Long awaited call comes
On Monday, Hutley called Vaughan to tell him he would be there the next day to destroy the guns. Up until then, Vaughan had expected the guns would be returned to the GSA to be processed and distributed to another law enforcement agency willing to deal with the paperwork which could use the guns. After all, they had received excellent care and were in good working order. The pistols Vaughan purchased to replace them, in fact, were only one generation newer, the only change a slot in the barrel where a light could be installed.
Vaughan explained the guns were perfectly good, and destroying them didn’t make any sense. Taxpayer dollars, after all, had paid for them. But Hutley assured him, there was no mistake.
He arrived at the Claflin city offices shortly after noon on Tuesday with the order. After he inspected the paperwork, Vaughan agreed to comply but did so under protest.
Vaughan wanted to know how many other departments in the state Hutley would be visiting, and how many other guns had been or were slated to be destroyed because departments like his were returning them. He wondered aloud, at a cost of around $480 each, what the final cost to taxpayers would be. Hutley directed all inquiries to the Kansas Department of Administration’s Public Relations Office.
After Hutley verified the weapons identification numbers on the guns matched his paperwork, Vaughan loaded them into his police vehicle and drove them to the Claflin City Shop. City Council members Kelly Nixon and Doug Hubbard were there at Vaughan’s request to witness when Claflin City Superintendent Richard Hayes was instructed to run all four guns under the chop saw.
Inside the shop, after Vaughan laid the guns out on a table, Hutley gave them a final inspection to make sure they were clear of bullets, and then proceeded to mark where the cuts should be made to ensure no part of the guns could ever be used again. Then witnesses donned ear protection, and Hayes took the first pistol and locked it into position under the chop saw and proceeded to cut the barrel. Sparks flew as the smell of grinding metal filled the shop.
“Never did I ever imagine I would ever see such a thing,” Vaughan said.
In a matter of minutes, all four guns were reduced to a pile of scrap metal cooling in a bucket of water. Then Hutley laid the pieces out on the shop floor to photograph the destruction for his documentation. Then Hayes was asked to sign off on the paperwork.
The Great Bend Tribune attempted to contact John Milborne with the Kansas Department of Administration Public Relations Office. He was unavailable and did not respond to messages before press time. The Tribune also reached out to the public relations department for the United States General Services Agency, but has not received a response.
Hutley did note that Claflin would not be the only city he would stop at to destroy weapons on Tuesday.