ATF: Southern California Officers May Be Violating Federal Gun Laws

On March 31st, Eric Harden, the ATF’s Los Angeles Field Division special agent in charge, sent a memo to police chiefs and sheriffs across Southern California, warning them about the possibility of law enforcement officers buying and selling firearms in what is believed to be a violation of federal firearm laws.

Harden is concerned about “the growing trend of law enforcement officials engaging in the business of unlicensed firearms dealing,” a report from the San Diego Union Tribune detailed.

The number of officers involved was undisclosed but the memo mentioned some officers buying and selling as many as 100 firearms, some of which have been recovered at crime scenes.

“It is our goal to educate, not investigate, to ensure law enforcement officials comply with federal law in order to avoid unnecessary public embarrassment to themselves and your Department/Agency,” Harden’s memo stated.

His memo, obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune, focuses on the purchase and resale of “off roster” firearms. Those are guns that are not on an approved roster of weapons that can be sold to the public.

The California law establishing the roster has an exemption that allows sworn peace officers to purchase such weapons, however. Another exception allows officers to resell the guns under certain conditions.

But if officers are buying and reselling multiple weapons for profit as a business, they need a federal firearms license, or FFL.

The lack of a license is the conduct that ATF has uncovered and is the subject of the memo.

“Recently, ATF has discovered that some law enforcement officers who do not have an FFL are purchasing ‘off roster” firearms … and reselling those firearms to non-law enforcement entities for a profit,” Harden wrote.

Violations include selling a firearm without a license (FFL status). Some officers were also purchasing firearms with the intent to resell them or purchasing a firearm on behalf of someone else, which would make them a straw purchaser.

According to ATF’s Los Angeles’ spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun, the ATF is wanting to educate law enforcement officers.

“There is no extra consideration,” Colburn told the San Diego Union Tributor “We believe the most effective way to stop the behavior is to educate law enforcement in what the laws are and aren’t.”

The California Police Chiefs Association sent out the memo last week. Local law enforcement officers forwarded the memo on to their officers and deputies.

“I sent it out to every single one of my cops saying, ‘Don’t forget. This is the way it’s supposed to be done.’ …I felt (the memo) was a reminder that these are the rules and we are not exempt from them,” Escondido Police Chief Craig Carter said.