By Alain Stephens, Texas Standard , in partnership with
Reveal from The Center For Investigative Reporting
Photos and video by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Web production by Wells Dunbar
An investigation by Texas Standard and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found that 21 of Texas’ 50 largest law enforcement agencies sell their used weapons to the public, effectively creating a pipeline of guns flowing right back into communities.
The guns are attractive to buyers. They’re well maintained, relatively new and often come at a nice discount. And they include caches of military-grade weapons. From the Garland Police Department to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, law enforcement agencies unloaded hundreds of shotguns and semi-automatic rifles, including models such as the Mini-14 and AR-15.
The Dallas Police Department sold a batch of Colt Commando assault rifles. Fort Worth police offloaded fully automatic German-made MP5 submachine guns. The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office shopped around an Uzi among prospective buyers before selling it at the rock-bottom price of $250. It’s a model that could fetch over $3,000 at a public auction.
While some departments and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives destroy their weapons in the name of public safety, police officials at these departments say they sell guns to afford newer and better weapons for their officers.
“I think the public would agree they want their police officers to have the best equipment,” said Sgt. Marc Povero, a spokesman for the Fort Worth Police Department.
Jay Wachtel, a former ATF agent and lecturer at California State University, Fullerton, says departments that sell weapons are playing with fire.
“It’s bullshit. You know instinctively when you put guns out there that they are going to get misused,” Wachtel said.
“Nobody that’s gone through a police academy would not consider that possibility.”
The public used to know when and how police guns turned up in crimes. However, those details now are shrouded in government secrecy, thanks to a 2003 law passed by Congress that prohibits the release of trace information.
“I fully recognize the fact that absolutely one of our guns could fall into the hands of a criminal,” said Lubbock Police Chief Greg Stevens. In 2014, his department traded in over 400 weapons to upgrade its arsenal. “That chance isn't enough for me to change what is, in essence, a business decision.”