Editorial questions police selling "forfeited" guns

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

What police do with guns they end up with varies by state. In some places, they destroy them. In others, they sell them to licensed dealers.

There are different schools of thought behind every decision.

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Ultimately, the system in place in a given state doesn’t seem to have much to do with violent crime rates in those states. The decisions tend to have more to do with people’s feelings than hard facts.

Which is why it’s hard not to roll my eyes at an editorial out of Maine that thinks guns forfeited to police should be destroyed, rather than sold.

A recent Bangor Daily News report on improper gun sales by the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department shone light on a seemingly counterintuitive practice — police selling firearms.

The Oxford County Sheriff’s Department sold 52 guns to a local gun dealer in 2021 without the appropriate tracking and record keeping, BDN Maine Focus editor Erin Rhoda reported.

The lack of paperwork and accountability in this instance are troubling. However, sales of forfeited firearms are legal and law enforcement agencies in Maine routinely sell guns they have properly seized. The sales can be an important source of funds for some departments.

Yet, we have to wonder why, at a time of rising gun violence, law enforcement departments would be returning guns to circulation rather than destroying them. With some exceptions, Maine law requires that machine guns and guns used in murders and homicides be destroyed. Lawmakers should consider broadening this law to require the destruction of all guns that can’t, by law, be returned to their owners.

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The defense for this position is that the federal government destroys the guns it gets its hands on.

I’m sorry, but just because the feds do something doesn’t mean it’s particularly smart, much less the right thing to do.

Now, understand, we covered the sheriff mentioned at the beginning of this section, and I think he should be prosecuted due to those allegations.

But the problem wasn’t that departments sell guns not used in homicides. The problem was that this particular sheriff appears to be something of a dirtbag.

Selling these firearms to licensed gun dealers happens all over the nation, and generally happens without incident. As a result of this practice, low-cost firearms become available for many who might otherwise not be able to afford a gun for self-defense purposes.

It also helps with police budgets.

Rather than paying for guns to be destroyed, they actually make a bit of money that can go to offset operating costs for the department.

It just makes financial sense.

“But in some other places, these guns keep ending up back in criminal hands.”

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Sure. That’s going to happen, but what percentage of them? Moreover, why do they end up in criminal hands? Some end up there via straw buys–they’re cheaper guns, after all. Yet let’s also remember that criminals are getting guns easily enough in states that destroy them, too.

In other words, there’s no value in destroying guns. Not from a financial perspective for the department and not from a public safety perspective either.

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