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Minneapolis police stop selling used guns after WCCO report, but it remains a common practice in Minnesota

Some Minnesota law enforcement still selling used guns, though Minneapolis police stopped after WCCO
Some Minnesota law enforcement still selling used guns, though Minneapolis police stopped after WCCO 04:47

MINNEAPOLIS — A WCCO and CBS News investigation led to a policy change by the Minneapolis Police Department, which no longer sells police-issued guns once they're no longer needed.

As part of a partnership with nonprofit newsrooms — The Trace and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting — WCCO Senior Investigative Reporter Jennifer Mayerle found many of them were sold or traded back into the market.

CBS News reports, in some police departments, they were sold directly to their own officers. Some of the guns were later involved in shootings, domestic violence incidents, and other violent crimes.

A weapon is part of an officer's uniform

"All of our officers, sworn officers, are issued a duty pistol, and that is across the board," Assistant St. Paul Police Chief Jack Serier says.

Serier says the department trades up every five to 10 years or so due to wear and tear. When it's time, the department sells to a federal firearms dealer, commonly known as an FFL. St. Paul police have sold more than 900 pistols and shotguns since 2015.

"Well, there's right and wrong ways to get rid of firearms," Serier said when asked why the firearms are sold or traded to an FFL. "We want to do it the right way every time. We care deeply about gun violence in our community. We want to make sure that they go through the proper process to find and resale to people who are qualified to buy firearms."

Serier says the department takes fiscal responsibility into account.

"Well, we've looked at the overall costs for not doing that in this. Absolutely, there's usually good resale value in firearms that we have used," Serier said, when asked if they've ever considered not selling the guns back.

Serier says the department typically gets back 75% of the cost of a replacement firearm, reducing the overall purchase bill of new duty firearms. It's saved roughly $270,000 in taxpayer dollars over the last 10 years.

Minneapolis police enact policy change on selling guns

Miki Lewis Frost started the Truce Center, a place with a goal to squash conflict without violence. One of the centerpieces of the institution is a reflection wall.

"All of these individuals up here have been murdered by gun violence. So this is my way of letting the families know that they are still here with us," Lewis Frost said.

He's working on keeping kids alive and away from guns.

"I'm worried about every gun in the community with the work that I do. There's not a caliber out there that can't kill you," Lewis Frost said.

Yet he says he's OK with agencies selling and trading duty firearms back to FFLs.    

"If it's used to continue to help fund the police department, you know, and it helps them to be able to do that, I think that I don't think that's a bad thing," Lewis Frost said.

Police Chief Brian O'Hara in Minneapolis took a stronger stance. This month, he made a change to stop selling or trading the department's guns.

"I don't want to sell any firearm back to an FFL, and that's my policy going forward. I'm going to put that in writing today," O'Hara said.


Minneapolis police only started purchasing duty firearms for sworn officers in 2018. Before that time, officers bought their own guns. Those guns have been grandfathered in. 

Since buying weapons, the department has sold roughly 200 issued shotguns and rifles to a FFL for about $70,000.

"I don't want us to be in a position where a weapon that was once in service for the police department here, is then wind up used in a crime or, you know, in an act of violence against a person, or, you know, even to shoot a police officer. So going forward, we're not going to be selling any weapons at all," O'Hara said.

The updated statement from Minneapolis police says firearms and firearm components will not be sold and will be destroyed.

Other agencies respond to selling guns to FFLs 

WCCO also got data from the Hennepin and Ramsey County sheriff's offices, along with the Minnesota State Patrol. The agencies all sell their guns to a licensed dealer, like St. Paul police.

The Minnesota State Patrol told WCCO:

"The trade-in of used Minnesota State Patrol (MSP) duty firearms back to the reputable licensed firearms dealers the MSP works with has been used in the past as an agency purchasing contract term for new service weapons.  This practice is fiscally responsible since the trade-in value offsets much of the cost regarding new service firearms for the agency. Since these firearms that are traded in are sold back to these particular vendors, we are assured that those involved in any future transactions regarding these firearms are following the laws in order to legally purchase them."

The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office said:

"To be as fiscally responsible as possible with taxpayer dollars, firearms that are due for replacement are considered for credit trade to specific companies that hold a Federal Firearms License (FFL). These companies are federally licensed and regulated by the United States Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). This practice offsets the cost of new firearms for taxpayers. We also do this for vehicles. This policy is common for law enforcement agencies around the country and we are not currently discussing any change to the practice."

And we heard from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office: INSERT QUOTE HERE

Most agencies have an avenue for officers to buy their duty weapon from the FFL if they want to. 

A joint investigation by CBS News, The Trace, and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting found at least 52,000 incidents across the country of guns used in crime traced back to a law enforcement agency. The investigation also identified more than 140 police agencies that sell or trade in their guns, allowing dealers to then resell them. Here's a look at the key findings of the investigation.

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