“Going Once, Going Twice, Sold”: Under A New Texas Law, The Police Can Act As Gun Dealers
For decades, weapons confiscated by the police in Texas were supposed to be used for law enforcement purposes — or else destroyed. Starting next month, police departments across the state will be allowed to sell some of them.
Some local departments have already been selling confiscated weapons, operating under a gray area of existing law, said T. Edwin Walker, president of Texas Law Shield, which provides legal services to Texas gun owners.
House Bill 1421, which passed during the last legislative session, formally permits law enforcement officials to sell found or unclaimed weapons to licensed firearms dealers. They can also sell confiscated weapons that are left unclaimed after cases that were never prosecuted or did not result in a conviction. In cases that do result in a conviction, police departments keep the firearms as evidence in case they are needed for appeals.
The new rule gives law enforcement another option, said State Representative Charles Perry, Republican of Lubbock and the author of the bill. “It has a fiscal impact in a positive way, and it makes sense if the weapons are in good shape.”
It is unclear how well the measure will meet its stated goal, which Mr. Walker said is allowing the police to “recoup some money, to put some money back in their budget.” Police departments in large Texas cities like San Antonio, Houston and Austin, which destroyed hundreds of guns in 2012, have said they would not participate.
Some law enforcement officials said they already had department policies against selling confiscated firearms and worried about putting more weapons back on the street.
The Waco Police Department has not yet decided if it will sell confiscated guns, but “at first blush it is probably not something we will be willing to do just for the fact that we don’t want to put additional weapons back out there on the street that have already been confiscated or used in a crime,” said Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton, the department’s public information officer.
Those who might rely on the new law? Small, cash-starved departments in rural Texas, some of which have already been making such resales.
In Crane County, home to about 4,300 people at the base of the Texas Panhandle, even two gun confiscations a year are a lot, said Chief Deputy Andrew Aguilar of the county sheriff’s office. Firearms his department has seized in the past have already been sold, he said.
In many rural towns, sheriffs’ sales of seized property are common sources of income, said Alice Tripp, the legislative director of the Texas State Rifle Association.
After the law takes effect on Sept. 1, law enforcement agencies will be able to sell confiscated guns to licensed weapons dealers. The proceeds will first cover outstanding court or auctioneer’s fees; the remainder will go to the police department that seized the weapon.
Jason Knowles, the manager of Patriot Firearms in Lubbock, said he doubted the confiscated gun market would be bustling.
“The majority of firearms seized by law enforcement typically are relatively cheap and of low quality,” he said. “You don’t get a lot of high-end guns in the seizure world.”
Sgt. Jason Lewis, the Lubbock Police Department’s public information officer, said the department had destroyed 56 firearms in 2012, many of them cheap, stolen guns in very poor condition. He said it would not participate in gun sales.
“Every once in a while, you get something that you are like ‘Whoa, that’s too bad that you are melting that,’ ” Sergeant Lewis said. “For the most part, it is junk.”
By: Ian Floyd, Texas Tribune, Published in The New York Times, August 24, 2013
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