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CrimeBeat: What to do with guns damaged in wildfires?

Retired Santa Rosa Police Department commander Steve Thomas finds the lock box for his gun without a gun inside on the first day residents could return to their homes in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

NICK RAHAIM,

CrimeBeat Q&A is a weekly feature where reporters answer readers’ questions about local crimes and the law.

I had a pistol that was destroyed in the Tubbs fire. How do I cancel the registration of a gun that no longer exists?

Short answer: With the California Department of Justice. But local law enforcement can help.

The wildfires that destroyed thousands of homes in Sonoma County also damaged or destroyed many guns. While a firearm may no longer be functional, local law enforcement asks residents to bring them to the Santa Rosa Police Department or Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office for disposal.

If the damaged gun has a visible serial number and its make and model are discernible, local law enforcement can enter the information in a statewide firearm database managed by the California Department of Justice.

If there is no longer any identifying information on a firearm, the gun owner must fill out a “Notice of No Longer in Possession” form with the DOJ’s Firearms Bureau. Santa Rosa police and the Sheriff’s Office can provide residents with these forms.

The Santa Rosa Police Department has already collected more than 120 firearms damaged in the Tubbs fire, 83 of which were from a single collection, said Kathy Esch, records supervisor for Santa Rosa police. Only a handful of guns had serial numbers that remained intact, Esch said.

“Some of the guns we’re getting have the shape of a gun, but are covered in a crust of melted steel and the wooden stocks are completely gone,” Esch said, noting that the heat of the fire rendered some firearms into ashes.

The Sheriff’s Office will have a dumpster on-site for resident to dispose of their fire-damaged guns later this year.

Both agencies will accept unwanted firearms from residents throughout the year, functioning or not. Usually, this occurs when a gun owner dies and no one in his or her family wants to take possession of the weapon.

“Don’t just walk in with the firearm,” said Sgt. Spencer Crum, Sheriff’s Office spokesman. “It’s best for people to leave them in their car and a deputy will come out and help.”

Some firearms acquired by Santa Rosa police are sent to the federal government to be repurposed for military training, Esch said.

But for the guns damaged in the Sonoma County fires, their end will again be fire. Both the Santa Rosa police and the Sheriff’s Office will ship the damaged firearms out of the county to be incinerated.

Submit your questions about crime, safety and criminal justice to Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.