Officials with the Los Angeles Police Department Wednesday addressed a City Council committee’s consideration of tracking the origin of firearms confiscated by police, with at least one police captain saying the move could have unforeseen ramifications.
City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who sits on the council’s Public Safety Committee, proposed creating a policy to find out where confiscated guns are coming from, particularly out of state, and for the LAPD to provide an annual report following the revelation that the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter purchased his gun in Nevada, a type of firearm not easily obtained in the Golden State.
“You have states that have open-carry (laws), where you have organizations like the NRA bending over backwards to make sure that combat weapons are available to anyone with no background check and no age limit,” O’Farrell said. “If we’re already collecting the data, that would help us determine the magnitude of how that negatively affects and harms California victims of gun crime. I would think there’s a universe of crimes where we could establish that nexus, and that’s the basis of this motion.”
But LAPD Capt. Paul Espinosa said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has made it clear in the past that specific information as to the exact location of where the firearm was sold may not be available to the public.
“We fought this battle with ATF, and they sent counsel from D.C. to state their reasoning to not disclose that information, to not make it public,” Espinosa said. “It can continue to be used for criminal investigations and it can continue to be given to LAPD gun unit. In order to request that information, it has to be approved by ATF. Sir, we can give it a try, once again, but LAPD cannot voluntarily produce this information without their permission.”
Espinosa said the federal Tiahrt Amendment prevents specific disclosure. The amendment is a staple in the U.S. Department of Justice appropriations bill that prohibits the National Tracing Center of the ATF from releasing information from its firearms trace database to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor.
Officials with ATF in Los Angeles, speaking on background, said tracking firearms is done based on requests submitted by law enforcement agencies. The general number of confiscated guns and where they came from are listed online; however, the ATF does not publicly distribute the specific information as to what dealer and where the guns came from.
When the LAPD tried to track these guns in prior efforts, it “severed” the relationship with ATF and the Los Angeles police, Espinosa said, which resulted in the department having to file requests through the Washington, D.C. headquarters rather than locally.
However, Espinosa said the LAPD’s relationship with ATF has been strong. He noted that ATF had helped the department seize more than 1,000 guns from a property in May.
Espinosa said the increase in “ghost guns,” firearms with no serial number that could be augmented beyond what’s legal, started trending upward about six years ago. It started with the AR-15, and now more ghost pistols are being confiscated.
California Highway Patrol Officer Andre Moye Jr., 34, was killed in a standoff Monday on the 215 Freeway in Riverside during a traffic stop, and CHP officials confirmed that he was killed by a ghost gun, an AR-15 that was assembled with ghost parts, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“We’re developing ways to track ghost guns, but we cannot identify the gun stores or the states that provide those firearms to us,” the police captain said.
O’Farrell also said he would like to see more information on legislation related to strengthening inspections at the state border for firearms. The proposals with recommendations were approved by the committee, which could send the proposals back to the City Council for adoption.