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General News    H3'ed 3/18/10

Gun Laundering? Dirty Money? When the 2nd Amendment Meets Greed

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Message June Werdlow Rogers

Say it isn't so. It is being widely reported that guns recently used to shoot and kill law enforcement officers had previously been seized by law enforcement officers. No, your eyes are not failing you. As absurd as it sounds, guns earlier determined to have been regarded as contraband are being resold by some state and local governments. I know it doesn't make sense.

It doesn't make sense because often, when a gun is encountered suggesting that it had a bad history or is moving in that direction, it is seized. Unattended guns found stashed at places like schools, camp grounds, beaches, streets and other public places are highly suspicious. Though designated as abandoned, a gun's very presence in some locations is suggestive that the person who left them plans retrieval with the intent to harm.

It doesn't make sense because frequently police remove guns from people who can not legally possess them. Convicted felons, minors, and the mentally ill are a few categories of persons who are prohibited from possessing firearms. But guns are even confiscated from persons who have permits when they are encountered by police under dubious circumstances, such as weapons that have been mechanically altered to fire fully automatic or carry obliterated serial numbers.

Finally, it doesn't make sense because police also confiscate guns in situations where it is clear that they have been used in the commission of a crime. Firearms are regularly taken from the scenes of robberies, assaults and homicides.

There are numerous reasons in the interest of public safety why the police would take custody of a firearm; but I cannot fathom one legitimate reason to resell those same guns. From a perusal of police websites, I can tell you that I am not the only person with a law enforcement background who is bewildered and infuriated by the revelation that confiscated guns are being resold.

So, if the prevailing belief and opinion is that seized guns should not be disposed of in a manner that can threaten public safety, why do it? No matter how irrational an action seems, investigators realize that a deed makes sense to someone. It's the reason that establishing motive is vital in solving crime. Such a reckless, risky practice like selling confiscated firearms requires an override of rational sensibility. And there is one phenomenon, when at work, that is known to defy reason--GREED.

In "Use Seized Monies for Treatment," I wrote about how some law enforcement agencies wrangle fiercely for a large share of proceeds from assets. I advocated that one way to minimize the corrupting influences on agencies dependent on drug forfeited funds would be to use some of the money to treat those addicted. Just like in the case of monies generated from the sell of assets in drug cases, some government entities are dependent upon the proceeds from the sale of seized weapons. As we now can see, a corrupting influence is not the only negative outcome of such practices.

Much of the attention on the resale of confiscated guns comes with the sad fact that officers were hurt or killed with these guns. But every life is valuable. I shudder to think of how many people, not in law enforcement, that have been harmed or killed by guns previously seized by police - firearms then released to the hands of brokers that facilitate their return to the criminal element.

As gun advocates readily argue, it is highly likely that the people who shot officers at the Pentagon and a Courthouse in Las Vegas would have obtained guns one way or another. Still, this does nothing to lessen a concern that the guns in question passed through the hands of diligent officers who felt they had removed them forever from those who would harm. Nor does it dampen the public's apprehension about where the next confiscated gun will turn up.

As we watch for the many other shoes that will inevitably drop, we must strongly question this practice. Unquestionably, localities can make money when forfeited firearms are sold in a nation where there is a right to bear arms. The question is whether the government should profit from the most costly of policies that subjects its citizens to hurt, harm, danger, or death. Given all that is involved "dirty money" would be an appropriate label to attach such funds.

Gun laundering or a government cleansing itself from involvement in the practice of reselling weapons subsequently used in crime is simply not possible.

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DEA Special Agent in Charge (retired) June Werdlow Rogers (formerly June W. Stansbury) holds a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice and Criminology earned at the University of Maryland. She has 28 years of law enforcement experience from 3 different agencies (more...)
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