Law-enforcement agencies should end the practice of selling off guns seized during criminal investigations. Rather, they should follow the lead of federal agencies and melt them down instead.
Police across Washington state seem to agree there is no shortage of firearms available to those who want them. Law-enforcement officials are split, however, on whether they should be adding to that supply through a common practice: Reselling or trading in guns seized during criminal investigations.
Since 2010, more than a dozen guns used in crimes and later sold by Washington law enforcement agencies have ended up as evidence in new investigations, according to a recent report from The Associated Press.
Guns seized and resold by law enforcement ended up in the hands of minors, possessed illegally by felons, involved in domestic-violence incidents or used to threaten people, the AP reported. One man killed himself using a gun traced back to the Washington State Patrol.
Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha defends the practice. He accepts some guns sold or traded in by law enforcement may be used in new crimes. “If they’re going to get a weapon, they’re going to get a weapon,” he told the AP.
But if that is the case, police agencies should not be making it even easier for criminals to get their hands on guns. Instead, they should melt the weapons down — not recirculate them to the same communities they are charged with protecting.
Federal agencies already require the destruction of seized firearms in most cases, and law-enforcement agencies in Yakima, King County and Seattle already do it. Other local agencies should exercise the same option.
The situation is more complicated for the Washington State Patrol, which state law bars from destroying the firearms it collects. Unlike other agencies, the Patrol only can auction off its confiscated guns, or trade them in to dealers in exchange for new equipment.
Some enforcement agencies say trading or selling confiscated guns provides them with much-needed revenue and gear. But at the State Patrol, officials say the money gained from trading in seized weapons doesn’t outweigh the danger of putting those guns back on the streets. In a 2013 exchange, the Patrol traded in 159 weapons; in return, it got a credit of $27,420 to buy handguns.
At one point, the Patrol had accumulated a stockpile of about 400 guns, hoping the Legislature would change the law so the weapons could be destroyed.
A bill from state Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, would allow that to happen. Lawmakers should approve it without delay.
There is no reason that police agencies should contribute to the glut of firearms already readily available in stores and on our streets.