Local law enforcement explains what happens to seized firearms

By Adam Strunk

This week, the Wichita Eagle wrote a series of stories on how the City of Wichita functions as one of the largest gun sellers in the state, generating $425,000 in gun sales since 2015, with $196,000 going to the city and the rest of the cut to the private company it contracts with to do the selling.

The article prompted us to ask what happens when law enforcement seizes firearms here. We reached out for more information about our two largest law enforcement departments, the Newton Police Department and the Harvey County Sheriff’s Department, and found both do business a little bit differently.

Newton, for instance, trades in seized firearms acquired through civil forfeiture with their equipment dealer when purchasing new equipment for the department.

“We have these things sitting here, and whatever value we get for them is money the taxpayer doesn’t have to spend,” Newton Police Lt. Mike Yoder said.

They work through a company, GT Distributors, based out of Kansas City and trade the seized firearms as well as old department service firearms to lower the cost of purchasing new equipment.

In the spring of 2020, the NPD received a value of $20,700 for trade-ins of service weapons and 42 seized firearms (mostly handguns). The department used the money to offset the purchase of $21,450 worth of new guns.

Yoder said that, generally, the department doesn’t receive a great value on the seized weapons, but GT Distributors is a licensed federal firearms dealer, and they feel confident that the company follows laws, background checks and oversight, should it resell the firearms.

That’s different than firearms sold at gun shows and auctions, where people can conduct personal sales of firearms, circumventing the background check process.

“What we’d get at a gun show would be considerably more than what we get,” Yoder said. “But we’re paying for ease of getting rid of them.”

In total since 2016, the NPD has traded in 61 seized firearms.

The sheriff’s department can follow a similar procedure, according to information provided by County Public Information Officer Kyle McCaskey.

“The firearm can be sent to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to be destroyed, can be used for department use, or it could be used to trade for equipment needs,” he said. “For example, the firearm can be traded to a licensed firearm dealer, and in turn, that funding could be used for equipment the sheriff’s office needs. In turn, the licensed firearm dealer can resell it, pending background checks, etc.”

McCaskey said that the sheriff’s department estimated that it seized fewer than a dozen firearms in the last six months. More in-depth numbers were not available as of press time.

As for how law enforcement gains ownership over seized weapons, Yoder said the process is complicated and long.

An office can’t just sell a weapon it seizes, for instance, but must gain it clear lythrough civil forfeiture.

Similar to cash, vehicles, and other property, firearms are subject to be forfeited, should a law enforcement agency file a civil suit and win a civil case linking the firearm to drug crimes.

McCaskey explained that if the sheriff’s department acquired a firearm but the firearm did not go through the forfeiture process or it was simply lost and found, “ it is essentially put in storage in perpetuity.”

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