In March, Texas state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (center), D-Austin, called on the Austin Police Department to stop reselling its guns. Credit: Jay Godwin/Wikimedia Commons

The City of Austin will stop selling used police guns to the public through gun dealers.

The decision comes in the wake of an investigation by Texas Standard and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, which disclosed that 21 of the 50 largest law enforcement agencies in Texas had sold weapons to the public over the last decade. The investigation identified more than 10,000 weapons sold in that timeframe.

That included firearms sold by the Austin Police Department, which offloaded over 1,100 handguns to Bailey’s House of Guns, a Houston-area gun store. Money from those sales went toward the department’s acquisition of new duty weapons.

The investigative report raised a host of concerns from city officials, chief among them the possibility that former Austin police weapons could slip into the hands of criminals. In a city council session Tuesday, Council Member Alison Alter described her issues with the process.

“The concern that drove this resolution was one that we did not want our police department to be contributing guns out into the community … guns that could then be turned to and be used on our police and on our community,” she said.

While former Austin police guns are released to licensed gun dealers who are required by federal law to run background checks on prospective buyers, the city resolution states the current background check system may not be adequate.

The council resolution cites holes in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which came to light after Sutherland Springs shooter Devin Kelley was able purchase weapons despite a criminal record that should have blocked him from doing so. The resolution also refers to the inability to adequately track whether former police guns are being used in crimes due to the Tiahrt Amendment, a federal law blocking the public release of gun trace information.

The city started moving on a resolution to stop sales after state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, lambasted city officials in front of thousands of demonstrators during a March for Our Lives event at the state Capitol in March, saying, “It boggles the mind that here in our own city, we allowed our APD to sell its used guns back into the private market.” Demanding the city stop the practice, she ended her speech saying, “Now that we know, never again!”

Before a 2003 congressional law blocked public access to federal gun trace information, it was widely reported that former police guns were being used in crimes.

A 1999 investigation by The Denver Post found that police weapons showed up in crimes across the nation an average of three times a day. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says sold police guns continue to show up in traces of crime guns, but it’s unable to talk specifics due to the secretive nature of trace data.

Reveal is currently suing the Department of Justice and ATF for the release of more detailed information regarding how often police guns are involved in crimes. That lawsuit is pending in federal court.

Alain Stephens produced his original investigation as a Reveal Investigative Fellow. The fellowship, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Democracy Fund, provides journalists support and training to create investigative reporting projects in partnership with their news outlets. 

Stephens can be reached at alaincstephens@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @alainstephens.

Alain Stephens

Alain Stephens is a reporter for the “Texas Standard,” a statewide radio news show aired from KUT in Austin. Stephens served in the U.S. Coast Guard and Air Force and spent time as a police officer in North Texas before making the switch to journalism. He graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, focused on law enforcement. When he’s not digging up stories, he spends most of his free time reading comic books and watching YouTube.