By Christine Byers • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Jul 2, 2017
The remote headquarters of a Chesterfield company is where guns seized by police go to die — but, before they do, some of them give new life to others.
Their first stop en route to a glorified paper shredder capable of crushing metal with ease is the desk of John Bozarth, the former armorer for St. Louis County police. He disassembles guns, removing valuable components to be sold mostly online, and sends the remainder of the weapons on to the pulverizing machine.
Sometimes, all that remains for destruction is the frame of a gun, which contains its serial number.
Bozarth and his co-workers wear heavy duty ear protectors for most of their day. The sound of guns passing through the metal teeth of the pulverizer and coming out in pieces on the other end loudly echo throughout the company, appropriately named Gunbusters.
The system offers police departments a way to dispose of illegal guns they seize from criminals, or ones used in crimes that are no longer needed as evidence and cannot be returned to their owners.
The process keeps weapons from building up inside evidence rooms in police departments, where workers usually don’t have accounting or warehousing backgrounds, and record keeping can be inconsistent, said Joe Latta, of the International Association for Property and Evidence Inc. It trains officers on how to better manage seized property.
A video camera mounted inside the machine records each gun’s demise, matching serial numbers to a digital file to document and record its destruction for the police departments Gunbusters serves.
In return for the dozens, sometimes hundreds, of guns that departments give Gunbusters to destroy, they get a DVD of their destruction should any question ever arise about them. The company also has destroyed electronic components, such as hard drives, badges and license plates.
And it’s all free to police departments. The company makes its money from selling salvaged parts and recycling.
The accountability is what has attracted now hundreds of police departments across the country and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to use the system, said Raymond Reynolds, who founded the company. His son-in-law, Scott Reed, is the vice president.
Reynolds, a retired St. Louis police lieutenant, got the idea after seeing how many guns his former department had to destroy. He visited American Pulverizer in south St. Louis, where workers use an industrial pulverizer to shred cars, bales of wire, spark plugs and other heavy-duty metal objects. He asked them to make a miniature version of their pulverizer. He and Reed have since patented it, and the documenting process.
Latta, a retired lieutenant from the Burbank, Calif., police department, said the Gunbusters system reduces the chances of human error in record keeping in police evidence rooms. In some cases, departments have seen guns lost or stolen, even ending up back in the hands of criminals.
But some chiefs don’t have a choice when it comes to what to do with their surplus guns.
About a dozen states ban police departments from destroying guns all together. In those communities, police departments must sell their seized guns. That practice has led to controversy among some police chiefs who believe it’s counterintuitive to sell guns after officers risked their lives to get them off the streets.
And, even though they sell them to licensed dealers or owners, firearms have sometimes ended up in the wrong hands and are used in crimes again — including attacks on police officers.
In January 2015, two officers were injured when a gunman opened fire in New Hope, Minn., using a shotgun that had earlier been seized and then sold at auction by the Duluth police.
Local departments divided
The area’s two largest police departments, St. Louis and St. Louis County police, send teams of officers to supervise the destruction of their weapons in smelters.
In St. Louis, the Internal Affairs Division monitors the destruction process, but the department would consider using Gunbusters due to their “unique and secure destruction process,” according to department spokeswoman Schron Jackson.
In St. Louis County, Sgt. Shawn McGuire said, “Our department complies with court orders that say to destroy the weapon. We get to witness the smelter completely destroy each weapon that we bring.”
The Florissant Police Department is among the dozens of local departments that use Gunbusters. Florissant Police Chief Tim Lowery says the department has brought Gunbusters about 50 guns each year for the past two years to destroy.
“We get a sense of satisfaction in knowing the gun was destroyed, and down the road, if it ever came up, we can prove the gun was destroyed and not have any concern about theft of those that didn’t make it into an incinerator,” Lowery said.
Before using Gunbusters, Lowery said his department sent its seized weapons to a smelter in Granite City. The department would send at least three officers to monitor the destruction, and do appropriate paperwork to document it.
Gunbusters employees pick up the weapons from police departments and transport them to their facility. They do the work and provide documentation to the departments.
“It’s a better chain of custody,” Lowery said. “We get serial numbers and pictures of them, so it’s a much safer way of doing things and gave us more accountability.”
Parts salvaged from some of the more rare weapons Gunbusters destroys have gone on to breathe new life into guns that have long sat dormant. One customer from Alaska thanked Reynolds and company for selling him the parts that revived his grandfather’s rifle after 34 years.
POSTED 11:19 PM, OCTOBER 10, 2016, BY JASMINE HUDA
(KTVI) Guns from cities across the United States are ending up in the St. Louis area. And while it might sound unusual, police are pleased.
“The departments want to get rid of them,” Scott Reed, Vice-President of Gunbusters said.
GunBusters is exactly what the name implies. Pulverization. Destruction.
“[We] take the full guns, operate them through our machine, and then you get them fully destroyed. You pulverize the entire gun,” Reed said.
It takes about eight to 10 seconds to pulverize a handgun, Reed said, and up to 30 seconds for a rifle.
The St. Louis-based business destroys approximately 2,000 guns a year. Reed said the company services about 20 different agencies in the metropolitan area.
“The reason we use them is the documentation piece,” Chesterfield Captain Steven Lewis said.
“The ability to say with 100% assurance, this is the weapon that was taken here, this is the weapon that was taken into this machine. And this is the weapon that was destroyed.”
Lewis said guns are destroyed for a variety of reasons. In some cases, a court order has allowed for the destruction of a gun used in the commission of a crime. In other instances, citizens turn over guns out of safety concerns. The department has also received guns that, sadly, were used in suicides.
“There are a lot of reasons why people would not want guns to be in their household,” Lewis said.
Documentation sets Gunbusters apart from other businesses that destroy weapons. Each gun is destroyed individually, with video documentation as evidence.
“We record the serial number of the firearm. We record the case number that the agency provides. We record the agency it came from, and the full time and date of destruction,” Reed said. “So, if they give us 100 guns, they get back a DVD that has 100 videos on it – of each gun being destroyed.”
The scraps are recycled and sold, allowing the company to stay in business, Reed said.
GunBusters also handles other items, including hard drives and knives. GunBusters does not accept guns or other weapons from private citizens. Citizens are encouraged to turn over any unclaimed or unwanted weapons to their local police department. That department, in turn, can transfer the item to GunBusters.
POSTED 8:36 PM, MAY 18, 2017, BY PATRICK CLARK, UPDATED AT 07:36PM, MAY 18, 2017
CHESTERFIELD, MO (KTVI) – Meticulous destruction might be the best way to describe the work being done at Gunbusters.
“These are guns that are used in a crime or taken from somebody by the police department,” said City of St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts. “We store those guns for evidence if they have to go to trial. And then after so many years, we then go to the (St. Louis) Circuit Attorney's Office and they make sure those guns are no longer needed for evidence for any kind of crime. Then we have the guns available to be destroyed.”
The Chesterfield based business on Thursday morning shredded their 10,000th gun, this one turned over by the St. Louis City Sheriff's Department.
Firing up the Gunbusters Firearms Pulverizer, the machine can turn a gun into decimated pieces of steel and plastic in just seven seconds. A 6,000 pound machine, enough to crush a car, provides the meticulous destruction for things that once cause random chaos.
“We take in their firearms, destroying them individually and recording the serial number of the firearm, the case or evidence of the firearm, and the time and date,” said Scott Reed, Vice President Gunbusters. “So they have 100 percent proof that what is asked to be destroyed is destroyed.”
A recent shipment of guns from Phelps County, Missouri will be marked, photographed, videotaped, and a copy of the entire process sent to the corresponding law enforcement agency. The pieces of pulverized firearms will be recycled for scrap.
KTVI - Fox 2 St. Louis visits GunBustersUSA to learn about their firearms destruction process
A look inside a company destroying guns seized by police, recycling their remnants. They offer service for free and make money from valuable parts they salvage and sell.
Video by Christine Byers
KTVI - Fox 2 St. Louis & St. Louis City Sheriff Vernon Betts witness GunBustersUSA destroying their 10,000th firearm