Watch CBS News

Thousands of retired police guns are found at crime scenes every year, investigation reveals

Investigation reveals thousands of retired police guns are found at crime scenes every year
Investigation reveals thousands of retired police guns are found at crime scenes every year 05:55

NORTH TEXAS — Every year, thousands of guns once used by law enforcement officers are discovered at crime scenes, even as police work to keep firearms out of criminals' hands.

CBS News partnered with nonprofit newsrooms "The Trace" and "Reveal" to survey 200 police agencies nationwide. The investigation revealed that a majority of these agencies sell their guns when upgrading their arsenals. 

In North Texas, police departments in Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth have traded in old service weapons to vendors while purchasing new firearms. Although these departments declined interviews, they emphasized via email that they follow federal guidelines when trading in used firearms to licensed gun dealers.

Under these trade-in agreements, departments receive credit toward new firearms and dealers subsequently sell these former police guns to individuals who have passed federal background checks. However, the journey of these guns doesn't always end there. They can be stolen or resold in private transactions that don't require background checks. Even with a background check, there's no guarantee that a gun won't later be used in a crime.

Federal law limits access to gun trace data, making it nearly impossible to figure out where a particular gun comes from. However, the Center for Investigative Reporting successfully sued the ATF to acquire statistical gun data. From those numbers, a CBS News investigation found that over a sixteen-year period, 52,000 guns recovered from crimes across the country were previously owned by law enforcement.

CBS News Texas

Former Texas state representative Lon Burnam expressed his opinion: "I think they should be destroying those guns. They're a public good. We should not sell them back into circulation without knowing the potential outcome."

Burnam, who frequently advocated for gun restrictions while in office, believes that police departments send the wrong message by adding guns to circulation. He emphasized that this issue is as much about symbolism as it is about reality. "With a glut of guns already in circulation, allowing former police guns to be sold feeds the culture of violence we all live in and suffer from," he said.

When it comes to guns confiscated from criminals, both Dallas and Fort Worth police departments destroy them. Fort Worth police send the seized firearms to a steel mill in Midlothian for melting.

CBS News Texas

Burnam suggests that departments should take the same approach when getting rid of old service weapons. While Dallas and Arlington have not disclosed the number of guns traded, Fort Worth records reveal that more than 2,400 firearms have been exchanged with private dealers since 2011.

Along with trading in old guns to vendors, many departments offer retiring officers the option to purchase their service weapon. This is something the Texas Highway Patrol also offers. Once purchased, officers are free to sell these firearms.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.