Should Police Departments Sell Seized Firearms?

Many guns sold by police departments end up being used in crimes. Critics say the reselling should be banned, but defenders of the practice say people will just get their weapons elsewhere.

Kyle Juhl made one last attempt to patch things up with his fiancee, then took back his ring, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger as she and her mother ran away. The Smith & Wesson 9 mm he used to kill himself in Yakima, Wa., in 2014 was familiar to law enforcement: The Washington State Patrol seized it years earlier and arranged its sale back to the public. It fell into Juhl’s hands illegally. Fears of such incidents have created a split among law enforcement officials over the reselling of confiscated guns by police, a longtime practice allowed in most states, the Associated Press reports. Juhl’s gun was among nearly 6,000 firearms that were used in crimes and then sold by Washington law enforcement agencies since 2010. More than a dozen of those weapons later turned up in new crime investigations.

The guns were used to threaten people, were seized at gang hangouts, discovered in drug houses, possessed illegally by convicted felons, hidden in a stolen car, and taken from a man who was committed because of erratic behavior. Some police departments contend the they shouldn’t be doing anything to put weapons back on the street. The International Association of Chiefs of Police says confiscated guns should be destroyed because putting them back in circulation “increases the availability of firearms which could be used again to kill or injure additional police officers and citizens.” Federal agencies must destroy seized firearms unless they are needed as evidence or being used by the agency. On the other side of the debate, some police officials say selling guns raises money to purchase crime-fighting equipment, and if the practice were abandoned, people would just buy weapons somewhere else.