- Guns confiscated by police in Tennessee were involved in crimes in Las Vegas and at the Pentagon
- In some states like Tennessee, police departments sell confiscated guns to raise money for needed equipment
- Many states require the destruction of confiscated weapons
- It's a double-edged sword: Money in the coffers or guns in the hands of criminals
- You can make a difference in your community, but understand the price
Guns and crime go hand-in-hand it seems. Have you ever wondered where the criminals get their guns? There may be a connection between the guns taken by the police in your town as part of criminal investigations and some crimes.
Tennessee and Beyond
What do these stories have in common?
Early in January 2010, Johnny L. Wicks entered the federal courthouse in Las Vegas, Nevada and began firing a shotgun. He wasn't shooting at anyone in particular, just at anyone or anything he saw. A security guard was killed and a federal agent was wounded before Wicks was shot and killed by other agents.
It's believed Wicks was upset with the way things were going in his legal battle with the US Social Security Administration over a cut in his benefits. There are reports he had an extensive criminal record, including a murder conviction in connection with the death of his brother.
Virginia: The Pentagon
In March 2010, John Patrick Bedell, a Californian, calmly approached one of the entrances to the Pentagon, the headquarters for the US Department of Defense. When guards asked him for a pass to enter the building, he pulled out two guns he had concealed in his clothing and began firing. Two guards were injured. Bedell was shot in the head and died later at a hospital.
There's no clear reason why Bedell attacked the Pentagon. It's been reported, however, he had a history of mental problems.
What's the common factor? The guns used in these crimes came from Tennessee, and they had been confiscated by police in Memphis during criminal investigations.
In some states, like Tennessee, the law requires police departments to sell guns confiscated in criminal investigations. In other states, such as California and Colorado, the police departments have the option of selling confiscated guns. Many states are like New Hampshire where confiscated weapons have to be destroyed.
In most states where sales are held, the guns must be safe, operable, have identifiable serial numbers, and the owner has to have been convicted of a crime, or the gun has to have been abandoned, lost, or stolen with no chance of finding the owner.
In states where confiscated guns are sold or auctioned, it's not uncommon for them to wind up in the hands of gun-shop owners who then try to sell them to customers. Individuals may also buy the guns and try to sell or trade them at "gun shows" held in cities and towns across the US.
In many cases, law abiding citizens buy the guns and use them safely. Unfortunately, sometimes the wrong people get them - like Wicks and Bedell.
It's a thorny issue, and there are good reasons for and against the practice of selling guns. On the one side, the sales save taxpayers money. The police departments use the money raised from the sales to buy new or updated equipment they need, like bullet proof vests. At a time when cities and towns across the US are feeling the pinch of the economy, the sales help keep police departments operational and effective without having a huge impact on the government budget.
On the other hand, it puts more guns on the streets available for criminals and would-be criminals.
What You Can Do
First, check the laws in your area to see if police are allowed or are required to sell confiscated guns. Then, you can contact your state lawmakers and ask them to change the law to either ban or allow the sales.
Understand, though, if these gun sales are stopped, you may be asked later at the election poll to approve a new tax to pay for new equipment needed by the police.
A middle ground may be to ask your state lawmakers, as well as your elected officials in the US House of Representatives and Senate, to make it harder for people like Wicks and Bedell to get their hands on guns in the first place. Tougher background checks and waiting periods may make it safer for everyone regardless of whether someone buys a confiscated gun, a gun legally traded in or sold to a gun shop by an individual, or a brand new gun. Resold confiscated guns aren't the only ones used in violent crimes after all.
No matter where you stand on the practice, we can all agree it should be harder for criminals and would-be criminals to get guns.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can a police department be sued by the family of a victim who was hurt or killed by a gun that was confiscated and then sold by the department?
- How can I get an accounting or record of how much money my city has made on the sale of confiscated guns?
- I was arrested on a domestic violence charge and my gun was taken by police. The charges eventually were dropped against me, but the police sold my gun at an auction while the legal action was in court. What can I do now?