- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. (AP) - More than 7,000 weapons seized or collected by Los Angeles County law enforcement were destroyed Thursday in the agency’s annual gun melt in the furnace of a steel mill.

The handguns, rifles and semi-automatic weapons were trucked to the Gerdau Steel Mill in Rancho Cucamonga, 40 miles east of Los Angeles, where bulldozers scooped up loads from a huge pile and dumped them into the furnace.

The 7,044 weapons were gathered in criminal investigations, probation seizures and from citizens at gun collection events, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

“These weapons which were used to harm, take away life, and effectively destroy happiness, families and communities, will be converted into something positive and beneficial,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement.

The guns were mixed with about 150 tons of scrap metal and then heated by electrodes to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit to form a pool of liquid metal to be formed into steel bars for use in constructing roads and buildings.

The Sheriff’s Department said more than 160,000 firearms have been destroyed over 23 years.

Gerdau, with operations in 13 countries, has a large recycling program at its Rancho Cucamonga mill and has long been involved in helping law enforcement agencies destroy guns.

The company said Thursday’s melt was a record for the number of guns and came less than a month after it recycled 2,100 pounds of guns from the Hemet Police Department in Riverside County. About 30,000 tons of weapons were destroyed last year in 40 gun melts involving various Southern California police agencies, Gerdau said.

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