Gun-running Scandal Inside LAPD Fueled By California Gun Control Laws

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

One of California’s screwier gun control laws is the fact that the state’s Department of Justice has to approve each and every handgun available for sale to civilians. Those guns that have been given the green light are placed on the state’s Handgun Roster, while “off-roster” models are off limits to the average Californian. No new models of handguns have been approved for sale to civilians since the state’s microstamping law took effect a decade ago, and dozens of existing pistols have been removed from the roster in the meantime.

The intention of the anti-gun activists in control of the state legislature is simple: to cut down on the number of firearms in circulation. However, giving police having access to popular handguns not available to the average consumer has also given law enforcement officers an incentive to break the law, and we’ve covered a few cases this year involving cops who were illegally selling off-roster guns. Those cases look like small potatoes, however, compared to the scandal that’s currently engulfing the Los Angeles Police Department, where the manager of the gun store at the Los Angeles Police Academy is being accused of stealing guns and selling them… mostly to members of the LAPD itself.

Before it all came crashing down, Archi Duenas’ gun-stealing scheme was relatively simple, county prosecutors wrote in a memo. He just couldn’t go on vacation.

Duenas, manager of the gun store at the Los Angeles Police Academy, had been reprimanded over the years for tardiness and sloppy record keeping, but he never took time off, according to the memo. As the store’s closing supervisor, he was there each night to lock up — and hand count the inventory.

If someone else had been assigned that count, they might have discovered that dozens of guns were missing and that Duenas was stealing them and selling them for cash, prosecutors wrote in the memo. But since he was always there, the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club was apparently none the wiser.

This went on for years, prosecutors wrote, facilitated by a lack of oversight and safety protocols that are considered standard in other gun stores.

Then, in February 2020, Duenas’ bosses told him he had accrued the “maximum allowable leave hours” and had to take time off, prosecutors wrote in the memo. When he did, another manager finally made the startling discovery: Boxes meant to have guns in them were actually empty.

The resulting investigation quickly led to Duenas’ arrest. But it also uncovered a larger scandal inside the LAPD: The clientele for Duenas’ stolen weapons included cops.

The Los Angeles Times reports that over the past 18 months, the investigation into Duenas has expanded to include a number of officers and commanders within the department.

The case raises red flags about the LAPD’s oversight of the gun store and its ability to investigate its own officers. It also offers an eye-opening window into the gun culture within the LAPD and the degree to which LAPD officers are allegedly profiting off the sale of firearms — including “off roster” guns that police officers have special access to despite their being declared unsafe for commercial sale in the state.

Investigators alleged LAPD officers, including several who are still on the job, knowingly purchased stolen weapons from Duenas, bought and sold much larger numbers of firearms in questionable ways, and dangerously stored loaded guns in places accessible to children, according to internal police records.

Top commanders, meanwhile, have been accused by the captain who initially oversaw the investigation of purposefully impeding the work of her detectives and assisting those in their crosshairs, including by forcing investigators to interview a high-ranking captain whom they suspected of wrongdoing before they were prepared to do so, and by ushering that same captain into his home — armed and in uniform — while investigators with a warrant were searching it, internal LAPD records show.

As reporters Kevin Rector and Richard Winton detail, some of the subjects of the investigation say they’re Duenas’ victims, not his accomplices, and it looks like at least one of them may be preparing to sue the city over the investigation.

As for Duenas himself, while he was originally looking at more than two dozen criminal charges and the potential of more than a decade in prison, uber-liberal Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon offered him a sweetheart of a plea deal: cop to one count of felony grand theft of a firearm and a misdemeanor charge for illegally transferring a firearm and walk away with probation.

Gascon declined to speak with the LA Times reporters for their story, which is unsurprising yet infuriating. By all accounts Duenas was the linchpin of the gun thefts and their illegal sales, yet he was able to walk away with a slap on the wrist. Why? The prosecutor in Los Angeles County may be keeping quiet, but his silence speaks volumes.

There’s an easy fix for the corruption and graft on display here: get rid of the state’s Handgun Roster entirely. There’s no reason why law enforcement should be able to buy some of the most popular handgun models around while those same guns are off-limits to ordinary citizens, and as long as this two-tiered system remains in effect, it will foster a culture of corruption and crime among those who are supposed to enforce the law instead of breaking it. Scrapping the Handgun Roster would take away the incentive for illegally dealing in off-roster guns, but I don’t hold out any hope that the anti-gun Democrats in charge of the state will come to that conclusion. Instead, we’re likely to see another round of gun control proposed… as well as more stories about cops who decided that the risk of selling off-roster guns is worth the sizable financial reward.