Crime & Justice

ATF: Law enforcement officers possibly selling guns illegally

Vincent Torres, owner of Bullseye Sport in Riverside, says sale in 2016 were
Vincent Torres, owner of Bullseye Sport in Riverside, says sale in 2016 were "out of the ordinary." More than a million guns were sold in California last year.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Some law enforcement officers in Southern California have been buying and reselling guns, possibly violating federal law in the process, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

According to the bureau, officers have been buying guns — some of which are not meant for the general public — and then reselling them without a license and for a profit to entities not in law enforcement.

Ginger Colbrun of ATF's Los Angeles field division told KPCC that the growing trend led to an advisory being sent to the leaders of Southern California law enforcement agencies explaining the federal rules of buying and selling guns.

"It is our goal to educate and ensure that law enforcement personnel, as well as the general public, are fully informed" of the regulations regarding gun sales, she said. While Colbrun couldn't specifically say how many cases the bureau noticed, she told KPCC that more than two cases is considered a trend.

Another facet in gun dealing is what statements are made on what's called a Firearms Transaction Record, also known as ATF Form 4473. According to the ATF:

For example, it is unlawful to knowingly misrepresent that you are the transferee-buyer of a firearm when you acquire a firearm with the intent to sell or otherwise dispose of that firearm to someone else, even if the subsequent transfer is processed through a Federal firearms licensee. You are not the actual transferee-buyer of a firearm if you are acquiring the firearm for, or on behalf of, any other person, unless the firearm is a bona fide gift, or being retrieved after repair.

Using a combination of sales reports and methods of tracking the time and origin of a weapon purchase, ATF started to notice that certain guns started showing up at crime scenes with a much shorter "time-to-crime" — the length of time it takes for a purchased gun to emerge at a scene.

"The average firearm takes about 10 years to go from purchase to a crime scene," Colbrun said. "If a firearm shows up within three years of purchase, that's somewhat of a red flag." 

Those flags led to ATF's discovery of the dealings from law enforcement officers. 

According to ATF, someone convicted of illegal firearms sales faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  Making a false statement to a federal firearms licensee when acquiring a firearm carries up to a 10-year prison term and a fine of up to $250,000.