Police in Austin, Texas will no longer be able to sell their used firearms to the public, the Austin City Council decided on Thursday.
“The City Council directs the City Manager to refrain from including any provisions in future contracts which would allow the City to sell or trade-in firearms or firearm accessories purchased or obtained by the City to anyone other than officers employed by the Austin Police Department [APD],” a draft of the newly passed council resolution reads. “Firearms or firearm accessories unsold to Austin Police Department officers shall be destroyed in a manner consistent with the recommendations of the April 2014 Evidence Disposition Audit.”
The discussion followed an earlier meeting with city commissioners on Thursday, wherein officials terminated a provision in the city’s contract with gun dealer Bailey’s Firearm Country Inc. that “allowed for trade-ins or sellbacks,” Fox 7 Austin reported.
“We don’t want our police department contributing guns out into the community. If our guns are in good condition we should not sell them. We should continue to use them,” Alison Alter, a council member representing the city’s 10th district, said after that meeting.
According to Houston Public Media, the decision comes in the wake of an extensive investigation by Texas Standard and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which found that “21 of the 50 largest law enforcement agencies in Texas sold over 10,000 weapons in the last decade.”
“It boggles the mind that here in our own city we allowed our APD to sell its used guns back into the private market,” state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) said in March, during an anti-gun violence March For Our Lives event at the state capitol building. “Now that we know, never again!”
— Casey Claiborne (@CaseyOnFOX7) May 10, 2018
Police in Austin have so far reacted to the news positively, with police Cmdr. Mark Spangler telling Fox 7, “[This decision] does keep us from an avenue in being able to mitigate some of the cost, but … one life is certainly to be valued at a much higher fashion.”
Police departments selling used guns to the public is a surprisingly common practice across the United States — one that’s been met with scrutiny by gun control advocates who note the hypocrisy in law enforcement cracking down on gun violence while simultaneously sending their own firearms back into their communities.
“It’s bullshit. You know instinctively when you put guns out there that they are going to get misused,” Jay Wachtel, a former agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and lecturer at California State University, Fullerton, told Texas Standard. “Nobody that’s gone through a police academy would not consider that possibility.”
The practice is apparently common enough that certain sites have published guides on how to look for previously owned police firearms and how to inspect them before purchasing. Other gun dealer websites have specific categories for used guns previously belonging to law enforcement officers. And while it’s illegal in some states for police officers to “flip” their weapons and turn a profit, it’s not illegal to sell them directly to civilians for its original purchase price.
Earlier this year, an Associated Press report found that the practice of selling seized guns back to the public was also common. In 2010, in Washington state alone, nearly 6,000 firearms used in crimes and confiscated by police were later sold to the public. Dozens of them, the AP noted, later turned up in other criminal investigations within the state.
To stem the problem, some departments have begun melting down seized weapons or re-purposing them for their own officers instead of putting them back into civilian hands.
“We didn’t want to be the agency that sold the gun to somebody who uses it in another crime,” Capt. Jeff Schneider of the Yakima, Washington Police Department told the AP. “While there is almost an unlimited supply of firearms out there, we don’t need to make the problem worse.”