AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Texas Standard investigation revealed how a 2003 law passed by Congress conceals how used guns sold by Austin police and other major police departments in the state end up being used in crimes.
The investigation caught the attention of Austin City Council Member Alison Alter, who spoke with KXAN’s John Dabkovich about her objections to the sales.
“I’m interested in us having proper gun control in our city, in our state and in our country,” said Alter, whose District 10 covers most of west Austin. “And to me, the risk of taking guns that are a high enough caliber that our police officers can use them and putting them back into circulation, at potentially a lower cost, is very troubling.”
The council member, when asked what she would like to see the police department do with their retired guns, said there are other agencies that melt them down. “I think if we’re going to approach this problem, we have to understand that there was a fiscal challenge at the root of why they chose to take this step,” she continued.
Alter said, if the decision is made to move away from the buyback program, the Austin City Council needs to come up with a fiscal solution that allows APD to pay for the guns their officers need in order to do their job. “I don’t know whether that’s providing them more money than they already have or finding the money in other ways.”
APD has sold more than a thousand guns to a Houston-based arms distributor, Alter said. The rest went to the public market.
“Weapons get stolen during burglaries of vehicles and burglaries of homes,” said Austin Chief of Police Brian Manley. “So, yes, there’s always the possibility could end up in the wrong hands.”
According to the Texas Standard investigation, the gun sales programs appear to be common in Texas — 21 of the 50 biggest departments in the state sell their used weapons.
In the Austin area, that includes the Department of Public Safety, University of Texas police, Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Across the state, departments like San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Lubbock and Plano sell their officers’ old weapons.
According to the report, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) says even if a used law enforcement weapon is used in a crime, it’s unlikely his agency could release that information, even to a police chief.
While Alter is focusing on APD selling agency-issued weapons, departments across the state have been selling other guns for years. Before 2013, firearms confiscated during seizures were kept to be used by law enforcement or destroyed.
That changed when Texas lawmakers passed House Bill 1421. Now agencies can sell seized weapons to licensed firearms dealers — and keep the profits — if the weapons are part of cases that are never prosecuted or if no one is ever convicted.
The owners of the firearms are given a written notice to claim their guns first and weapons that are part of cases with convictions are kept as evidence in case of an appeal.