AP finds guns sold by police were used in new crimes

FILE - In this Oct. 20, 2017 file photo, Johnny's Auction House owner John West prepares items, including a line of assault rifles at left, for auction where the company handles gun sales for both civilians and a half dozen police departments and the Lewis County Sheriff's Office, in Rochester, Wash. The Spokane City Council is considering a proposal to prohibit the police department from selling forfeited firearms, following an Associated Press investigation that found that more than a dozen guns sold by law enforcement agencies in Washington state ended up in new police investigations. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

SEATTLE (AP) — The Spokane, Washington, City Council is considering a proposal to stop the police department from selling forfeited firearms, following an Associated Press investigation found that guns sold by Washington state law enforcement agencies were later used in new crimes.

Councilwoman Candace Mumm said Thursday that the AP investigation coupled with a review of the proceeds from the gun sales inspired the council to want to end the practice.

“They’re putting assault weapons back into the community,” Mumm said. “I felt the benefit of destroying them outweighed the costs.”

Under state law, police and sheriff’s departments have the option to sell, destroy or trade firearms confiscated in criminal investigations, but the law requires the Washington State Patrol to sell the guns. All sales are conducted through a federally licensed gun dealer.

The Spokane Police Department has sold 311 since 2011, according to spokesman Officer John O’Brien. The AP investigation went back to 2010, which included 25, bringing Spokane’s total to 336 since 2010.

The department sells its confiscated long guns through an auction house located across the border in Post Falls, Idaho, he said. The agency won’t sell any guns used in homicides or illegal firearms like automatic weapons. They destroy forfeited handguns, he said.

Law enforcement agencies across Washington state sold more than 6,000 firearms that had been used in crimes between 2010 and the end of 2017, the AP investigation found. More than a dozen of those weapons later turned up in new criminal investigations, according to a yearlong AP analysis that used hundreds of public records to compare serial numbers of sold guns with crime guns.

The guns sold by police , sheriff’s offices and the Washington State Patrol were used to threaten people, seized at gang hangouts, discovered in drug houses, possessed illegally by convicted felons, found in a stolen car, taken from a man suffering from a mental health crisis and used in a suicide .

The guns sold by Spokane police included Winchester .22-caliber rifles, Remington 12-gauge shotguns, a Colt AR-15, a Bulgarian-made AK47-style rifle, a “Romar assault rifle” and several Norinco SKS, 7.62 x 39 mm semi-automatic rifles. One of the Norincos sold for $180, according to police records on the sales.

Between 2011 and 2018, the forfeited firearms sales generated $16,787, according to the proposed ordinance. The sales ranged from $633 to about $7,488 in any given year, the ordinance said.

But when the handling costs related to the sales — records, accounting, transfer fees, taxes — are factored in, the sales only brought in several thousand dollars, said Mumm, the councilwoman who is sponsoring the new ordinance. Each law enforcement agency must pay 10 percent of all sales to the Washington State Treasurer.

Mumm said she has received emails from some who think the revenue is worth it, “but I’m also hearing from people asking ‘why are they selling assault rifles?'”

Fresh in the city council’s mind, she said, was the shooting at Freeman High School in September 2017. A student brought a semi-automatic rifle and handgun to the school, located southeast of Spokane, and killed one student and injured three others.

According to the ordinance: “the City of Spokane intends to do all it can to prevent and reduce violent crime in Spokane and has determined that destroying all seized or forfeited firearms rather than reselling them to the public or to gun dealers is a simple, sensible and effective way to reduce access to firearms and help reduce and prevent gun violence.”

The City Council is scheduled to hear public comment on the ordinance before voting on the measure next Monday night.

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This story has been updated to correct the number of guns sold by the Spokane Police Department was 336.

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