County gun auction a sign of crisis, not hope

There are certain privileges that growing up in Oklahoma can afford a person: an innate knowledge of how to respond to tornados, a cynicism regarding if your vote counts and a natural acceptance of the state never having enough money. News cycles regarding budget crises are passé and ignorable. School districts, cities and counties struggling to make ends meet is universal across the state; from large areas like Tulsa to small towns like Woodward, everyone is running out of money too quickly. Public universities are losing funding. SoonerCare, which services over 800,000 at-risk Oklahomans as of July 2017, 530,000 of which are children, is being scaled back. Public school districts are bleeding teachers, unable to live on Oklahoma’s teacher pay, and the quality of education has suffered for it. The budget crisis has reached epidemic levels but has become so commonplace that no one cares much for talking about it any longer.
In early August, Wagoner County Sheriff Chris Elliott decided to take matters into his own hands. It had been nearly 30 years since the storehouses had last been emptied by auction, so one was planned for Aug. 19. Among the items posted for sale were nearly 300 firearms, a trailer and decommissioned police vehicles but the firearms were what raised eyebrows. After all, the Tulsa Police Department doesn’t sell their confiscated weapons at auction; they destroy them. Organizers of the auction did confirm that anyone who bought a firearm at the event would need to be able to pass a background check before they were allowed to purchase the weapon, at cost to the buyer. The issue isn’t that the county is selling weapons—though there is something to be said about the state selling guns for profit.
Yes, owning firearms and the sale of firearms is legal in the United States, but the government actively making money off arming the general populace in a state where laws concerning who can buy firearms from private individuals are lax at best sets up dangerous precedent. Oklahoma law does not require a state permit to purchase firearms, nor does it subject individuals buying guns through private sales to a background check. Firearms do not have to be registered with the state once purchased. The only certification required by the state of Oklahoma is when federal law requires it. Which means that weapons that wouldn’t be in circulation if they hadn’t been sold by the sheriff’s office, a government office, are suddenly in circulation, unregistered and available for sale and purchase by private individuals where the buyers are not required to have a background check. Yes, guns are legal in America, but surely selling weapons to citizens who could then turn around and unknowingly sell them to dangerous individuals is just nonsensical.
The paramount issue, then, is that the county was compelled to auction off guns to raise funds, regardless of the risk such an action posed. As of writing this piece, Wagoner County has not released their 2017-2018 budget. Several cities within Wagoner county, though, such as Tulsa, Broken Arrow and Coweta, have released their 2017-2018 estimates and the situation is grim. Broken Arrow’s annual budget report calls the Oklahoma system of funding budgets through sales taxes “volatile” and “antiquated.” As Oklahoma continues to rely on sales taxes for the general fund, cities and counties across the state could turn to rely on selling off confiscated property to raise money for necessary expenditures, like schools and health care, even when it’s dangerous to do so. Wagoner County’s choice to hold an auction was not a promotion of 2nd Amendment rights. It was a desperate attempt to make rent, like pawning a wedding ring or taking out a payday loan.
Wagoner’s auction was a symptom of a larger disease and should be treated as a particularly telling one. The addition of lax gun regulation only makes the illness worse. When counties are forced to hold auctions to supplement their income from state and municipal taxes, it’s time to reevaluate the situation. A lean budget cannot help the sick, educate children or find justice for victims of gun crimes. Unfortunately, the solution isn’t a simple one. We need to shift away from our reliance on sales taxes where the revenue is unpredictable and rapidly falling because of the consumer’s turn toward Internet sales. We place too high a burden on our brick and mortar stores, especially when the burden can be distributed across property taxes, corporate taxes or even—dare I say it—taxes on oil. Yes, economic policy is mind-numbing at best. But it isn’t popular politics or catchy phrases that are going to fix this budget crisis. An all-encompassing problem like the one Oklahoma faces requires innovative, thoughtful discussion and compromise concerning our state’s tax code that may result in a complete overhaul of the system. The electorate must demand change, and loudly because until we do, nothing will change. No one wins an election by saying they’ll raise taxes, after all. Politicians will almost certainly lose their seats over these issues, but without quick action, the state won’t have the money to pay for those seats. No amount of county auction gun sales can make up for our spiraling budget shortfall, especially not when the answer is right in front of our faces if we would only try to look for it.

Post Author: Amanda Amos