The ruling permanently ends the city’s practice of destroying confiscated guns, which began in 2005 and was suspended in December last year, when litigation began.
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild decried the ruling on Thursday.
“We’re disappointed in the court’s decision, the result of which is to take the state of Arizona down the wrong path by severely limiting cities’ abilities to innovate and govern according to their constituents’ interests,” Rothschild said.
Local law enforcement organizations in Arizona normally sell seized weapons on the open market, at auctions or otherwise. Tucson’s ordinance was aimed at taking them permanently off the street.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich hailed the ruling as a win for the rule of law.
“Today’s ruling makes it clear that cities cannot ignore state law. Arizonans have entrusted me to enforce the law and I intend to uphold their trust. Tucson must now reverse their illegal ordinance,” Brnovich said in a statement.
There are few restrictions on gun sales in Arizona, so few that gun rights activists freely paid cash to strangers for weapons at a Tucson Police Department substation parking lot in 2012 during a city gun collection event.
Organized by City Councilman Steve Kozachik, then a Republican but now a Democrat, the event offered $50 grocery store gift cards in exchange for any gun, working or not. Counter-protesters showed up, offering as much as $250 for the guns as police calmly watched over the scene.
Although dozens of guns were taken off the streets, several handguns and long guns were sold with no exchange of identification and no records of the sales. Such sales are legal and typical in Arizona.
In 2013, the state amended its gun regulation statute to forbid local governments from “facilitating destruction” of guns. Between 2013 and last year, when the program was suspended, the city destroyed about 4,800 guns, according to the ruling.
The ruling is a symptom of a wider trend toward top-down governance which infringes on local control, Kozachik said.
“This is an example of what we are seeing all across the country, when all three branches of the government are controlled by one ideology. We’re seeing these attacks on home rule all over the country,” he said.
The ruling isn’t just about guns, Kozachik said. He added that it should worry local jurisdictions all across the state, because the state could argue that water conservation or other local ordinances are of statewide importance and hand over control to the state.
He labeled Brnovich a hypocrite for quashing local control of government.
“They say they want local control too, then, ‘Oh, by the way, we’ll tell you how to do it,'” he said.
The city has been returning confiscated guns to the open market since the case began last year, Rothschild said.
“Many of the confiscated weapons have already been used to commit criminal acts, so I will recommend that any funds received from their sale be used to support public safety,” the mayor said.