07/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Where Guns Go to Die

We want police to get dangerous guns off the street, right? Well, they are -- in record numbers. Now the problem is what to do with all those confiscated guns.

A routine traffic stop yields a rifle in plain sight in the back seat of a car driven by a convicted felon.

A domestic abuse call uncovers two unlicensed pistols inside a home where a woman has called 911 after being battered by her husband.

A take down of a local drug dealing operation nets police a cache of illegal weapons -- from semi-automatic to half a dozen 357 Magnums.

What happens to all those weapons?

First, they're stored as evidence until disposition of each criminal case in question. Then, once they're no longer needed it's up to each department to decide what to do with them.

You'd think with all the white hot heat surrounding gun control in this country we'd have a uniform policy on this. We don't. The FBI referred me to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms where I got nowhere. The National Association of Police Chiefs had no answer either. No guidance, no policy.

It used to be that police departments along America's coastline, from California to New York and down to Florida, would dump these guns into watery graves far out into the ocean creating artificial reefs of rusting revolvers and rifles. Sometimes financially strapped departments kept the firearms for their SWAT Team's use or traded them with neighboring law enforcement agencies. Other departments have been known to auction off confiscated guns or sell them to registered dealers for much needed cash. That, of course, puts the guns back on the street again.

So, more and more these days guns seized from those who aren't supposed to have them, or those weapons turned in during 'No Questions Asked' neighborhood collection and buy-back drives, are being destroyed. They're literally shredded in huge metal chomping machines called 'alligators' with a jaw power of 200 tons of cutting force. The weapons are pulverized into small pieces of scrap metal and sold for about 25 cents a pound.

There are other places these guns are sent to die. At foundries and smelters across America armed police guards are arriving with tens of thousands of pounds of confiscated weapons and they stand by to make sure they are completely destroyed. The guns are subjected to temperatures of more than 3000 degrees for as long as it takes to make them liquid again.

This death sentence for guns means life for more practical items. Some of the melted metal is used to make chain-link, pipes or manhole covers. In Southington, Connecticut there is just such a sewer cover that declares in raised metal lettering that it was, "Made from 172 pounds of your confiscated guns." Ironically, it's placed right outside JoJo's custom made gun shop and about 15 miles from the main Colt Fire Arms Manufacturing company in West Hartford, Connecticut. It's a constant reminder to gun owners to keep their weapons safe and to stay out of trouble.

In Rancho Cucamonga, California the TAMCO Steel foundry has been melting down guns for years. They call the program 'Project Isaiah,' named for the biblical passage about beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. One TAMCO official put the project's goals into a modern version, "We shall melt their guns into rebar and build a community for all to live in peace and harmony."

The rebar fashioned out of the 12 thousand guns TAMCO melted into uselessness last year helped build, among other structures, the Staples Center and the New York, New York Casino in Las Vegas. They also used it to repair the Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco and various earthquake damaged freeways.

A great swap, right? Lethal guns in exchange for products that produce jobs and safe places for citizens. But not everyone is happy with the gun destruction programs.

Gun enthusiasts complain police don't really try to find the true owners of stolen guns before they condemn a weapon to the smelter. Others mourn the deliberate destruction of weapons that qualify as historically valuable antiques. Then there are the pragmatic who point to the latest FBI stats and grimly remind us that no matter how many guns are destroyed in this fashion the American people buy an estimated five million new guns every year.

The destruction programs are a literal drop in the smelter bucket.

Me? I acknowledge the U.S. Constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms -- law abiding citizens -- and that's fine. But, these are guns taken from outlaws. And outlaws use guns to commit nearly 70% of all the murders in this country. I've got no problem drowning, grinding or melting them into oblivion.

Read a collection of Dimond's Crime and Justice columns at www.Diane