SoCal cops could be breaking federal law by buying and selling crime scene guns

Law enforcement officers in Southern California could be breaking federal firearms laws by buying guns recovered at crime scenes and re-selling them without a license.

In a March 31 memo, Eric Harden, the ATF’s special agent in charge in Los Angeles, told police chiefs and sheriffs that some officers have purchased more than 100 “off roster” firearms recovered at crime scenes, and then sold them to non-law enforcement individuals.

“Such transactions potentially constitute violations of federal firearms laws, to include dealing firearms without a FFL, and lying on a federal firearms form when purchasing said firearm — also known as ‘straw purchasing,’” wrote Harden. “When presented with compelling evidence of flagrant violations of federal firearms laws, ATF is obligated to conduct a criminal investigation.”

A FFL, or Federal Firearms License, allows individuals or companies to manufacture, import and sell firearms. Calling it an “emerging problem,” Harden offered an advisory for law enforcement to teach them how to lawfully deal the recovered firearms.

“Per 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(21)(C), a law enforcement official who regularly acquires ‘off roster’ firearms and sells or disposes of them for a profit is engaging in the business as a dealer of firearms and must be licensed,” reads the advisory. “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.”

Anyone convicted of unlawfully dealing firearms without a license is subject to up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. False statements on FFL’s could draw up to 10 years in prison. The advisory pointed out those penalties, but in his memo, Harden said his office is concerned with education.

“It is our goal to educate, not investigate, to ensure law enforcement officials comply with federal law in order to avoid unnecessary public embarrassment to themselves and your Department/Agency,” he wrote.