For years, it was common for law enforcement to destroy firearms that were confiscated from criminals, but across the country, cash-strapped police departments have begun to auction off the guns – a practice that has long existed for other seized or confiscated property. The laws vary from state to state – and many still require that firearms are destroyed – but Kentucky is one of several states where every gun that was seized must, by law, be sold, even if the firearm was used in a violent crime.
Kansas passed a similar measure in 2014 that all guns seized as part of a criminal investigation must be auctioned off to the general public. As a result of that law, since 2015, the city of Wichita has become one of the largest “gun dealers” in the south-central part of the state. Wichita has sold more than 2,000 firearms that were no longer needed to be kept as evidence after the criminal cases were completed.
The city has generated $196,000 from the gun sales, and the money then went into a fund that pays for miscellaneous police equipment. It seems like a win-win situation for law enforcement and law-abiding citizens. The police department directly benefits and firearms that are still operable are legally sold to the community.
Consider the Fees
However, it turns out that the city – and the police – could be coming up short. The Wichita Eagle reported last month that the city actually receives less than half of the total proceeds from the firearms sold. The auctioned off firearms netted around $425,000 in total sales, but it seems that the companies that handle the sales take a significant portion of the proceeds.
It is common in the auction world for the middleman to receive a sizable commission. Sellers who opt to use an auction house, whether it is online or in-person, can expect to receive only around two-thirds of the total “gavel price” with the other third going towards the commission. In some cases, auction houses tack on a “buyer’s premium” whereby the buyer actually pays an additional fee.
In the case of Wichita, the city contracted with Propertyroom.com, which sells the confiscated firearms via a partnership with a major gun retailer. That is required by law – and it seems to be a case of where there are more partners, there are more fees. The city’s finance director had said there were other proposals, but in the end, Propertyroom.com offered the best deal, the Associated Press reported.
Still, the total value of firearms is noteworthy. Supporters of the efforts to sell seized guns argue it is no different than other property, while opponents claim that the government shouldn’t be in the firearms business. A similar sentiment not to sell guns was shared by Flint, Mich. Mayor Sheldon Neeley, who last summer announced that while the Great Lakes State city has made upwards of $200,000 from gun auctions in just the past year, it would immediately end the practice.
“Under this administration, we will never again line our pockets by selling guns,” Neeley said in a statement issued by the city.
Many other communities will likely continue the practice however, seeing that property is property and destroying something is like throwing the money away. That is especially true as the country has continued to see record-breaking demand for firearms since the start of the pandemic last year.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.