Fish & Wildlife Department auctions guns off, too

Published: May. 16, 2018 at 9:13 PM EDT|Updated: May. 17, 2018 at 11:44 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It was an auction in the middle of a field. Hundreds of people were lined up from the early morning for one thing: Guns.

Shotguns, rifles, pistols and more.

That was the setting for the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife confiscated gun auction.

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While the Kentucky State Police auctions confiscated guns to licensed arms dealers, state law allows for Fish & Wildlife to sell them to any Kentucky resident with a state ID who clears a background check.

It's because of a 1998 Kentucky law allowing for confiscated guns to be sold by the state.

State-run auctions have come under recent scrutiny. A bill recently pushed for the confiscated gun auctions to come to an end.

But WAVE 3 News found out there is no data tracking whether these guns sold at state auctions are winding up on the streets.

"Literally on a daily basis we're encountering people with guns," Louisville Metro Police 4th Division Lt. Jason Grissom told WAVE 3 News.

The Louisville Metro Police Department took in 1,900 guns in 2017 alone, Chief Steve Conrad said.

So far this year, the 4th Division has seized an average of more than one a gun a day. Grissom said some of the firearms seized were stolen from legal gun owners.

"All these guns are getting into the hands of criminals, because it's criminals that are breaking into your car," Grissom said.

Meanwhile, the department's 9th Mobile Division seized 635 guns in 2017, 51 percent of them from convicted felons. Of those, 97 could be confirmed as having been stolen.

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Between 2011 and 2016, Fish & Wildlife officials have sold nearly 600 confiscated and surplus firearms. The department said confiscated firearms have raised roughly $89,000 since 2015.

The firearms sold at auctions range in price from as low as $15 for a .22 rifle to $425 for a 9-millimeter Glock.

Several shotguns sold for around $80 on the day WAVE 3 News visited recently. Buyers were seen getting a federal background check on the spot.

"These people have passed a background check. A lot of them are concealed carry license holders, which means they've been trained and licensed by the state," gun rights advocate Aaron Spalding said. "Why should they not have the right to it?"

Spalding said he believes the auctions have nothing to do with violent crime.

"If you take them away, you're just preventing innocent people from protecting themselves, or hunting or something like that," he said.

Just last year, the Kentucky State Police sold more than 4,000 confiscated guns. But are the firearms sold at state auctions being used again in crimes? WAVE 3 News learned there is no clear answer.

Neither KSP nor the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) specifically track that statistic. The agencies said guns seized in a crime would be traced back to the dealer. Once KSP auctions the gun to a federally licensed dealer, it is out of their hands.

"Right now, where we're standing right now, I guarantee you, there's, there's guns around," said Neal Robertson, who works with at-risk youth in Louisville.  Robertson said the auctions are putting guns right back on the street.

"Like a repeated cycle," he said. "Hey, you get the gun, we'll get it back."

From the number of confiscated guns in Kentucky tracked by the ATF, the average time it took for it to be sold and then used in a crime is 6.5 years.

"Do you think actually they want to keep these guns from people?" Robertson asked.

That recent bill, HB 411, which sought to ban state-run gun auctions, failed. It didn't even make it to committee.

"They're coming, they're coming, they're coming - and these kids are getting them," Robertson said.

According to the most recent ATF data, there are about 80,000 registered firearms in Kentucky.

Officials refer to Kentucky as a "source" state. Nearly 70 percent of the firearms used in crimes in 2016 were traced back to being sold in Kentucky.

The department explained that the numbers of guns it has data for may only show a small part of the real picture. Fish & Wildlife officials also said law enforcement agencies may request firearms traces for any reason, but that those reasons are not necessarily reported to the federal government.

Other national statistics from the ATF show that in 2016, 289,223 firearms were recovered and traced in the United States, of which 211,384 were traced to a final retail purchaser.

And last year marked a 43-percent increase in firearms manufacturing in the U.S. within the last five years.

In 2015, the majority of the firearms manufactured were rifles, with 3.6 million made, and pistols coming in at second place at 3.5 million.

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