The City of Austin will stop selling used police guns to the public through gun dealers.
The decision comes in the wake of an investigation by Texas Standard and the Center for Investigative Reporting finding that 21 of the 50 largest law enforcement agencies in Texas sold over 10,000 weapons in the last decade. That includes firearms sold by the Austin Police Department, which offloaded over 1,100 handguns to Bailey’s House of Guns, a Houston-area gun store. Money from those sales went towards the department’s acquisition of new duty weapons.
The sales raised a host of concerns by city officials, chief among them the probability that former Austin police weapons may slip into the hands of criminals. In a Austin City Council work session held on Tuesday, council member Alison Alter described her issues with the process. “The concern that drove this resolution was one that we did not want our police department to be contributing guns out into the community … guns that could then be turned to and be used on our police and on our community.”
While former Austin police guns are released to licensed gun dealers who are required by federal law to run background checks on prospective buyers, the city resolution states the current background check system may not be wholly adequate. The council resolution cites holes in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which came to light after Sutherland Springs shooter Devin Kelley was able purchase weapons despite a criminal record that should have blocked him from doing so. The resolution also refers to the inability to adequately track if former police guns are being used in crimes due to the Tiahrt Amendment, a congressional law blocking federal gun trace data.
The city started moving on a resolution to stop sales after state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, lambasted city officials in front of thousands of demonstrators during a March For Our Lives event at the Texas State Capitol back in March, saying “it boggles the mind that here in our own city we allowed our APD to sell its used guns back into the private market.” Demanding the city stop the practice, she ended her speech saying, “Now that we know, never again!”
Before a 2003 congressional law blocked public access to federal gun trace information, it was widely reported that sold police guns were being used in crimes. A 1999 investigation by the Denver Post found that former police weapons showed up in crimes across the nation on an average of three times a day. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says that sold police guns continue to show up in traces of crime guns, but are unable to talk specifics due to the secretive nature of trace data. The Center for Investigative Reporting is currently suing the Department of Justice and the ATF for the release of more detailed information regarding how often police guns show are involved in crimes. The lawsuit is currently pending in federal court.