Hundreds of gun enthusiasts packed the Westmoreland County Public Works Building in Hempfield on Saturday morning, hoping to find a gem of a gun for a bargain price.
The county auctioned 97 guns, nine vehicles, a handful of bicycles and other equipment to the highest bidder. Money raised by the auction will go into the county’s general fund. A total figure was not available Saturday.
The firearms, ranging from small pistols to long hunting rifles, had been collected by the county coroner’s office dating to the 1980s, coroner Ken Bacha said. Every gun for sale was used to take at least one life, whether by suicide or accidental shooting, he said.
Unlike police, state law prohibits the coroner from destroying firearms or other property of value; the items must be sold at a public auction, Bacha said.
The uniqueness of the sale — the first by the coroner’s office in about 30 years — drew media attention from national outlets and from as far away as England, Bacha said.
“Hopefully, if anything, (the auction) will bring attention to the number of suicides in this county,” Bacha said. “Each gun here is a life.”
The coroner’s office investigated 55 suicides last year, with firearms used in 34.
No mention of the guns’ history was visible to auction-goers. Bacha said the guns are sold anonymously, so buyers won’t know whom the gun killed or how.
Each gun was laid out in a shallow cardboard box along a series of folding tables with a plastic cable stuck through the gun’s mechanisms so it could not be fired. Potential buyers picked up the guns, examining the exterior, using flashlights or the light of their cell phone to stare down the guns’ barrels and making notes on their bright-yellow auction lists.
The guns’ past lives — and those they ended — didn’t faze most buyers.
“The guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” said Sandy Turchan, 50, of Murrysville. Turchan said this was her first gun auction and she was curious as to what was for sale and what kinds of deals might be found.
“A lot of the rifles are hunting rifles, so they are designed to kill something,” said Mark Chiocca of Upper St. Clair. “It’s tragic; it’s a shame, but I don’t know why it would freak people out.”
Chiocca said he was primarily interested in a handgun for “punching holes in paper” and said he noticed “a few gems” while perusing the inventory.
As the auction began, numbers rolled off auctioneer Bill Anderson’s tongue at lightning speed as he called prices and pointed to bidders in the crowd.
Bids varied widely with a Sears and Roebuck Ranger 105-20 going for $100 right after a Colt .22-caliber pistol drew a bid of $1,400.
Some buyers said they worried that the high turnout would drive up prices beyond those of new firearms. As the auction was about to begin, 395 people had registered to bid, officials said.
Greg Thompson, 47, of Ruffsdale said he studied the guns online and did price checks at local gun shops before coming to the auction to get an idea of what he should pay. He said people may not always like to be the first one to bid, but once the bidding gets going, prices can rise quickly.
“It’s an ego game for some people,” Thompson said. “How much are you willing to pay?”
Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or [email protected].