Did Los Angeles Police Department officers illegally sell guns on the black market?
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is in the midst of an ongoing investigation to determine whether officers have been illegally selling handguns, an allegation that if proven true would mean that officers repeatedly violated federal and state laws that are among the strictest in the nation. The Los Angeles Times reported in May that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened an investigation into missing LAPD handguns, dating back to at least 2010.
Suspicion over the missing guns first arose in May 2010, when a lieutenant in the LAPD’s Metropolitan Division, which includes SWAT, attempted to inventory the division’s weapons, according to a whistleblower lawsuit filed by the lieutenant and supported by a report from Alex Bustamante, LAPD inspector general.
Lt. Armando Perez discovered that SWAT members had purchased at least 324 pistols from the gun maker Kimber Manufacturing and were “possibly reselling these Kimber firearms for large profits to people outside of Metro SWAT,” according to Bustamante’s report. The FBI is now investigating the possibility that discrepancies in the inventory could be because of illegal sales.
Some critics have pointed out that the situation is made worse by the fact that LAPD, entrusted with protecting the public, already has a special “Gun Unit” dedicated to investigating and prosecuting violations of firearm laws.
The investigation has yet to result in any disciplinary action, but lawyers familiar with the existing legislation claim that the laws are straightforward on this issue.
C.D. Michel, a California attorney writes, “Ironically, the laws that cover these resales really aren’t that complicated, especially when compared to many other gun laws LAPD has unhesitatingly interpreted and enforced against civilians. The main one is 18 USC § 922(a)(1)(A), a federal statute that prohibits ‘Engaging in the Business of Dealing in Firearms Without a License.’”
Michel clarifies that Federal law allows a person to sell firearms without a license once or twice, but once an individual repeatedly sells firearm and establishes a pattern of sales, this person can be considered to be “engaged in the business of selling.”
Ironically, California gun laws are among the toughest in the nation. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence published a report this month claiming that California’s strong gun laws have contributed to a 56 percent drop in gun death rates across the state over the past 20 years.
Groups on both sides of the gun issue will continue to debate the efficacy of the legislation, but what happens when the police themselves violate state and federal laws?
It’s not the first time that the LAPD has been embroiled in controversy. The LAPD Rampart scandal stands as one of the largest cases of police corruption in U.S. history. The firestorm of activity was set off when one officer named Rafael Perez, claimed that dozens of his colleagues were regularly involved in making false arrests, giving perjured testimony and framing innocent people in incidents dating back to 1997.
It turned out to be mostly true. Of the 70 accused of wrongdoing, enough evidence was found to bring 58 before an internal administrative board. Twenty-four were then implicated in wrongdoing resulting in 12 suspensions, seven forced retirements and five dismissals.