Data Shows More Than 50K Guns From Police Departments Were Later Used In Violent Crimes

New data reveals close to 52,529 guns from police departments ended up being used in violent crimes. 

The data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found police guns have turned up at the scene of crimes since 2006. While that alarming number includes firearms that were lost or stolen, a number of them were sent back into the market by the same public safety agencies that promised to protect and serve the public. 

Records from hundreds of law enforcement agencies across state lines found several guns were resold or traded in, an issue that has put guns in the hands of thousands of criminals. Guns were resold guns to dealers for discounted rates for new equipment or, on a case-by-case basis, sold directly to officers within the agency. Those guns would later be used in shootings, domestic violence cases, and more. 

One case involved 19-year-old Cameron Brown, who was shot four times and killed in September 2021 outside his apartment in Indianapolis. His mother, Candace Leslie, received the call from Brown’s girlfriend, who kept yelling, “Cameron! Cameron! …, while leaving church. He won’t get up. He won’t get up!’” Leslie remembers feeling “numb” and “kind of disoriented” when she got to the crime scene, covered with yellow caution tape. 

The Glock pistol investigators found at the scene was later discovered to have once belonged to a sheriff’s deputy in California, more than 2,000 miles away. 

In the same mid-western city in the same year as Brown’s murder, police seized an old, fully loaded Iowa State Patrol pistol from a man arrested for allegedly choking a woman. 

State police in Kentucky sold a gun to a detective who was retiring, and the pistol landed in Buffalo, New York. The weapon was later discovered by federal agents in a bookbag with heroin and a bulletproof vest in 2019. 

Surveyed data from state and local law enforcement agencies revealed that 145 who admitted to reselling guns had done so at least once between 2006 and 2024 — 90 percent of the 160 agencies that responded.

Former ATF division chief Scot Thomasson feels police departments who resell weapons violate the promise to protect the citizens they serve. “Taxpayers are buying firearms that are then resold for pennies on the dollar and ultimately ending up in criminals’ hands,” Thomasson, who is now a consultant for SafeGunLock, said. 

“It is absolutely ridiculous.”

Data spotlights several departments in Tennessee, including Metro Police in Nashville and sheriff’s offices in Hickman, Sumner, and Rutherford counties. According to News Channel 5, all had one gun traced to crime scenes between 2013 and 2017. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office had two guns traced to crimes. 

But some agents feel where the guns land after resale isn’t their issue. “It’s a legal transaction,” Stanislaus County, California, Sheriff Jeff Dirkse said. “So, if I legally sold my old used patrol car and somebody uses that in the commission of a crime, is that our responsibility? I would say no.”

Several departments resold their weapons while holding buyback events, an event used to get guns off the street. Philadelphia City Council celebrates having collected 825 guns during its program since 2021. However, records show Philly police resold guns over that number — at least 886 guns in the past 20 years — including 85 firearms between 2021 and 2022.

In 2021, the Newark Police Department in New Jersey hosted a buyback, offering up to $250 for each firearm handed in, resulting in 146 guns. While the city’s public safety director said, “146 fewer firearms on our streets means less gun violence, fewer gun violence victims, and less risk of suicide or death,” years earlier, the same department resold close to 1,000 guns — one even being seized in Pittsburgh from a convicted felon who allegedly shot off more than a dozen rounds in a neighborhood and led officers on a chase. 

A department spokesperson said the firearms were traded in under past leadership as a cost-saving effort and that the department currently “has no plans to upgrade its service weapons.”

RELATED CONTENT: Last Year A Record Number Of Firearms Were Discovered At Airport Security Checkpoints

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