High-Profile Weapons Traced Back to Memphis P.D.


Two weapons—one used in a shooting at the Pentagon earlier this month, and another used in a courthouse shooting in Las Vegas—have been traced back to the police department in Memphis, Tennessee.

According to law enforcement officials who spoke to the Associated Press, the guns were once seized in criminal cases. They then made their way into the hands of would-be assassins through gun dealers, as part of a system that is drawing increasing criticism.

Many cities and states put the guns that are confiscated during criminal investigations back into circulation, by either selling or trading them. Not only is this the practice in many areas of the country, but some states even promote it. In Tennessee, a law was signed on March 4—ironically enough, the day of the Pentagon shooting—that says a law enforcement agency can only destroy a gun if it is unsafe or broken.

Gun swaps can be a way to decrease taxpayer costs, because the police department is able to trade guns that aren’t quite right for police work for different guns, bulletproof vests, or other equipment that they need. If the department doesn’t have to buy those items outright, it can save money for the taxpayers. Other weapons are sold outright, generating income for the department, much as any confiscated item would be sold.

The shooter in the Pentagon attack, John Patrick Bedell, had two guns that day—one of them a 9 mm Ruger which he never should have been able to purchase. He had been prohibited from buying a gun because of a history of serious psychiatric problems, but was able to buy the Ruger at a Las Vegas gun show nevertheless. This kind of sale, between individuals instead of between a dealer and an individual, does not require a background check.

Johnny Lee Wicks, who opened fire with a shotgun at a federal courthouse in Las Vegas in January, killed one officer and wounded another. That gun was ordered sold by a judge, as part of a criminal case, and proceeds went to the Memphis-area sheriff’s office. Although it is unclear how Wicks obtained it, the gun seems to have changed hands several times. Wicks, a convicted felon, was also legally barred from owning a gun.

Both men were killed by officers returning fire.

In the past two years, there have been almost 50 new laws passed on the state level that loosen gun restrictions. Most of these have taken place in the South and West, where gun-rights advocates tend to be more prevalent.


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