When Police Are Arms Dealers

After the shooting at the Jewish Community Center in California, Buford Furrow allegedly killed a postal worker with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. The gun was first owned by the Cosmopolis Police Department in Washington state, reports CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales.

"We purchased the gun for evaluation and sold it to a local gun dealer. That gun dealer sold it to a private citizen," says Gary Eisenhower of the Cosmopolis police.

That's not uncommon. According to documents obtained by CBS News, law enforcement agencies across the country have sold or traded tens of thousands of their weapons to gun dealers. The dealers then sell the guns to the public - everything from handguns to machine guns.

"I think it's outrageous, putting assault weapons back on the streets - there's no excuse," says Jay Wachtel, a former federal agent who specialized in gun trafficking.

Launch InteractiveGUNS in AMERICA
Arm Yourself With The Facts

When Columbine High School students returned to school last week, the cheering couldn't erase the memory of what high-powered weapons can do.

At the time of the Littleton massacre, local officials - including the Jefferson County sheriff - condemned assault weapons as having only one purpose: killing people.

But CBS News has learned that four of the five departments responding to the scene that day sell or trade their used weapons - including assault rifles - to gun dealers.

None of those dealers would consent to an interview, but CBS News has a list of the weapons they bought from law enforcement: 112 handguns, 194 shotguns and 20 assault weapons, including the AR-15, a weapon so deadly it can no longer be imported or manufactured here. That was one of the guns sold by Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone. He told CBS News he didn't know his department sold assault weapons.

"I think my philosophy is going to change on that and those weapons will not be used in any kind of trade-in program," Stone says.

But Stone defends the practice when it comes to handguns. "Well, it's just like trading in a car or anything else except it's guns. I have no problem with the handguns," Stone says.

A handgun first owned by the New York State Police was later used by Richard Leon Browne to murder two store clerks in California. Browne, caught on surveillance tape, is now on death row.

That gun, according to a report, was one of 30 used in crimes which were traced back to New York law enforcement. Now, all used state weapons are destroyed.

The legendary Texas Rangers, the guys in the white hats, and the Texas Highway Patrol are among the biggest arms dealers in law enforcement. According to inventory reports, they've unloaded thousands of handguns, shotguns, rifles and a handful of assault weapons over the last decade.

But the biggest bang for the buck may come from the Irving, Texas, police - the only department we found that sold grenade launchers. The paper trail leads to a licensed firearms dealer in Idaho who is offering them on his Web site for $3,500 a piece.

"The people who get them are licensed and that's about the best safeguard we can come up with is going through the federal government. They assure us that these people are the proper people to deal with," says David Tull of the Irving, Texas, police.

That licensed weapons dealer in Idaho also promotes, as a "must read," a new novel in which the hero advocates the execution of police officers who enforce gun-control laws

Buford Furrow was an avid reader of such anti-government books and at one time he was a licensed federal firearms dealer.

All these gun deals - even the grenade launchers - are perfectly legal. The question is - in a country reeling from gun violence - should those who are supposed to protect and serve be selling and trading such deadly weapons?

Part 2: Police Put Guns On The Street

©1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed