Mass destruction of weapons confiscated in Woodstock

A handgun is placed for cutting in an alligator shear at Behr Iron and Metal in Rockford.
A handgun is placed for cutting in an alligator shear at Behr Iron and Metal in Rockford.

ROCKFORD – Nearly 400 weapons seized by Woodstock police were destroyed Thursday at the Behr Iron & Metal recycling plant in Rockford.

Handguns, knives and rifles – including an automatic rifle similar to an AK-47 – were run through an alligator shear, which snapped and rendered the weapons useless. Machetes, samurai swords, a meat cleaver and a brass knuckle/knife combination also were destroyed.

In total, there were 150 to 170 guns and an additional 200 knives, with a total value of about $75,000, a Behr employee said.

“From a moral issue, getting these off the street is the right thing to do,” said Jim Barbagallo, senior account executive at Behr. “And recycling them, rather than landfilling them, is definitely the right thing to do. In a landfill, there isn’t a guarantee they aren’t coming back.”

Behr employees and Woodstock police emphasized the importance of destroying the weapons and keeping them out of the hands of criminals.

“The last thing in the world I want is to have [these weapons] resold on the street,” Woodstock Det. Sgt. Jeff Parsons said.

Each gun was inspected by two trained Behr employees and placed one by one into the shear. The shear snaps the weapons in half with 200 to 300 tons of pressure. Rifles and shotguns were cut twice – once at the stock and once at the barrel.

The destroyed weapons will be shipped to a steel mill in South Beloit, Ill., where they will be shredded and turned into scrap metal.

“In three to four weeks, this material will be riding around in a Dodge Dart,” Barbagallo said.

With the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the issue of gun control is on the forefront of Americans’ minds. Barbagallo said he was happy to play a role in destroying weapons that otherwise could end up in the wrong hands.

“I think what took place in Newtown is still on everybody’s mind,” he said. “Fortunately, these weapons won’t be reused. That’s the positive note.”

But Barbagallo made it clear that Thursday’s gun destruction was not a message for or against gun control.

“It’s not about pro-gun or anti-gun,” he said. “It’s about anti-crime.”

“I think the public … especially those who might be anti-gun … like to see this type of thing,” said Wade Bigall, vice president of marketing at Behr. “They like to know the guns that aren’t being used are being destroyed. The Connecticut events have opened up a huge debate on both sides. It’s certainly a complex issue. But I don’t think anybody on either side of the debate wants criminals to have guns.”

Some of the weapons seized by Woodstock police date to the 1970s and have cluttered evidence rooms. Parsons said the evidence room is being converted to an electronic inventory system, and he is in charge of getting rid of items that they are no longer required to keep by law.

The Woodstock police received the weapons for a variety of reasons. Some were seized and required to remain in police custody by a court order. Others were handed over willingly by people looking to get rid of their weapons, Parsons said.

Cameron Johnson, an Iraq War veteran, works at Behr and used his familiarity with firearms to inspect the weapons before they were destroyed.

“I’m always interested in seeing the firearms that come across that I’ve never seen before,” he said. “Some of them I don’t even know how to clear at first.”

Johnson said that by destroying the guns, he was doing his part to make the community safer.

“You always want to make the community safer,” he said. “I’m really proud to take a part in that.”

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