CBS News' Vince Gonzales reports in Part II of this Eye On America series.
In 1993, after a gunman with semiautomatic weapons killed eight people in a San Francisco high rise, the mayor at the time demanded a ban on assault weapons.
Frank Jordan, former mayor of San Francisco, held up an assault weapon and said that there was absolutely no reason in an urban setting to ever have that kind of a weapon legalized and available.
Just a year later, a drifter with two assault rifles and an Uzi killed a police officer and turned the streets of San Francisco into a war zone. Again there were calls for tougher laws. But while city officials were trying to get guns taken off the streets, the San Francisco Police Department began putting its used weapons back on the streets.
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According to documents obtained by CBS News, over a two-year period San Francisco police sold or traded more than 100 of their assault weapons, including AR-15s and Uzis.
Both of those guns are illegal in California. So they were sold to dealers, including one located in South Central Los Angeles, who resold them to gun shops out of state.
"I think people weren't thinking," says City Attorney Louise Renne.
That could be a problem for Renne because San Francisco is suing gun makers for being irresponsible and making it easy for criminals to get guns.
"Will it hurt our lawsuits? I don't think so," adds Renne.
But it can't help the case. In fact CBS News has learned that of the major cities suing gun makers, most have been selling or trading their used weapons for years. St. Louis approved a six-figure arms deal just last week.
But of all the cities looked at by CBS News, it is Detroit, once the nation's murder capital, that now ranks No. 1 in the gun business.
According to contracts and shipping records, over the last seven years, the Detroit Police Department made nearly a million dollars selling 14 tons of used weapons, mostly handguns, to a Vermont dealer.
In Washington state, money was the reason the budget-strapped Cosmopolis Police Department traded in a 9 mm Glock pistol.
"I can't just destroy it. I'd have to answer to the city council and the citizens for wasting the money somehow," explains Gary Eisenhower of the Cosmopolis Police Department.
It was the same gun that Buford Furrow allegedly used to kill postal worker Joseph Ileto during his shooting rampage earlier this month in Los Angeles.
"There's only one reason these guns were manufactured and made and that was to kill people," says David Kalish of the Los Angeles Police Department.
The Los Angeles Police Department says it is more concerned with saving lives than saving money.
"We don't know where the guns are going to end up, and we just don't want to take that chance even if we could make a buck or two," says Kalish.
|Los Angeles Police Department doesn't sell its old firearms.|
Some cities are following Los Angeles' lead. Boston began restricting sales in April. And just before San Francisco sued gun makers in May, police promised to stop selling their used weapons.
"Am I sorry we didn't end the practice sooner? Of course," says Renne.
And gun dealers will be sorry if more police start destroying their old firearms. They've been making a killing off buyers willing to pay top dollar for a gun once owned by a cop, especially the most lethal weapons that can no longer be made in the United States.
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