A handgun seized by Fairfax County police that was then traded to a firearms dealer last year was seized 10 months later from a juvenile charged in connection with a drug crime in Richmond.
The weapon was one of 655 confiscated guns exchanged by county police over the past four years to help pay for the department's purchase of new 9mm handguns and other weapons. A practice common among law enforcement agencies nationwide, the selling of seized weapons has drawn opposition because of fears that guns taken off the streets from criminals would end up again in criminal hands.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. Hanley (D) said earlier this week that she would propose a ban on the sale of confiscated weapons at the board's meeting Monday. At the time, she didn't know that one of the traded guns had been seized again in a crime.
The Post tracked that weapon by comparing the serial numbers of more than 300 traded police guns to those listed in a computer database of Virginia crime guns. The survey produced a single match, but it covered only a limited period and half of the weapons traded by the department in recent years.
"I'm dismayed to learn that happened," Hanley said yesterday. "I'm relieved that the gun wasn't used on anybody, but that's exactly the kind of thing I'm trying to prevent."
The controversy in Fairfax reflects an evolving national debate about the ethics of law enforcement agencies' recycling of confiscated weapons. Police resales are now viewed by many as contributing to the easy availability of weapons, although they constitute a small number of the estimated 250 million guns now circulating in the United States.
The weapon in the Richmond case was a Davis Industries .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol that had been out of official police custody for less than a year.
It was initially confiscated by Fairfax County police June 5, 1997, when a 41-year-old Temple Hills man was pulled over and charged with driving while intoxicated. Police found the pistol, along with cocaine, in the man's vehicle.
The gun became the property of Fairfax police and was shipped in May 1998 along with nearly 150 other confiscated weapons to Southern Police Equipment, a Richmond firearms dealer. In exchange, the department obtained 30 new SIG-Sauer 9mm pistols.
The gun turned up again March 16, when Richmond police arrested a juvenile on a firearms possession charge. An adult from Richmond was charged in the same incident with possession of cocaine and marijuana, according to police.
Even within the Washington area, official policies regarding guns are inconsistent. While Fairfax has resold its confiscated weapons, District police have been trying to reduce the number of guns on the streets by paying people $100 to bring in their weapons, which are then destroyed. President Clinton yesterday proposed expanding the program nationwide and providing cities with $15 million in federal funding to pay for gun trade-ins.
Fairfax County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger was not available yesterday but said earlier this week that he supported ending the county's policy of trading in seized weapons. He said it had been done in the past as a way to save taxpayer dollars and was a common practice in communities across the country.
Regarding the sale to the Richmond dealer, Lt. Amy Lubas, a police spokeswoman, said, "All laws were followed regarding this transaction."
Fairfax County began the practice in the early 1990s in an era of tight budgets. A recent police department memo said that because of the strong economy, county funding is currently available for new gun purchases and Manger has no plans to trade more weapons.
But the memo also defended the practice.
"The delivery of firearms from police ownership to a licensed firearms dealer for purchase by other departments or law-abiding citizens helps to mitigate the costs of new police firearms and was a responsible decision given the circumstances at the time," the memo said. "While it is impossible to determine what may happen with a firearm after it is sold by a licensed dealer, all precautions are taken to ensure strict compliance with applicable laws."
Hanley said she inquired about the county's policy after learning that one of the weapons found in the possession of Buford Furrow--who went on a shooting rampage at a Los Angeles day-care center last month--had earlier been used by a police department in Washington state.
When she learned that there was no official policy and that the practice had been at the discretion of the police chief, Hanley said, she decided to propose a ban.
"It ought to be the policy of this Board of Supervisors that those weapons will be destroyed, never to be used again," she said in a statement this week.
Staff writer David Ottaway contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. Hanley wants a new gun policy.