So the D.C. Police Department Came Under ATF Scrutiny

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posted on April 13, 2024
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Diplomatic Security Service courtesy Flickr

When the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) was the only federal firearm licensee in Washington, D.C., it came under scrutiny from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), according to a recent report from NBC’s News4 I-Team.

“So many guns [were] recovered at crime scenes, in such a brief period, that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives placed D.C. police into a program designed to give extra scrutiny to dealers with higher levels of so-called crime guns,” the report stated.

First, a little backstory. When the last legal gun dealer in D.C. shut down his business in 2020, perhaps due to D.C. politicians and the ATF making the business more of a headache than it was worth, the MPD had to step in as the District’s only Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL)—not doing so could have left the city open to lawsuits from citizens demanding their right to keep and bear arms.

So, with no gun stores in the District, residents who wanted to buy a gun had to visit a shop in a neighboring state or shop online, and then have the firearm shipped to MPD. The D.C. police department would then call in the federal background check. If the individual was cleared, they’d transfer the firearm to the D.C. resident.

“The solution that we came up with was to delegate to MPD the authority to operate as the District’s FFL while there is no other commercial alternative,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at the time. “And once there is a viable commercial alternative licensed to operate in D.C., MPD will no longer need to serve this role.”

While the MPD was the exclusive FFL for only about eight months and transferred around 8,000 guns, it apparently didn’t have a very good record concerning transferring guns that later were recovered at crime scenes. According to the NBC report, the ATF issued the MPD a “Demand 2 Program” letter in May 2022. The Demand 2 Program requires FFLs with 25 or more firearm traces in a calendar year, that have sold firearms with a “time to crime” (the time between when a gun is sold by an FFL and when it turns up at a crime scene) of three years or less, to submit an annual report of firearms transactions to the ATF.

Interestingly, the D.C. guns’ “time to crime” was reportedly far shorter than the national average. According to the NBC report, at least 25 guns MPD transferred to residents in 2020 and 2021 were recovered at crime scenes in 2021 alone—an extremely short time-to-crime interval.

While NBC’s News4 I-Team asked numerous questions of police officials concerning the department’s time as an FFL and the guns recovered at crimes, it received very few answers to those questions.

“The department would not say how many guns were eventually tracked to crime scenes, or if they told families D.C. police helped sell a gun used to injure their loved one,” the report stated. “D.C. police would not tell us how many people were assigned to the gun dealing unit. Nor would they say if they ever refused a sale—as is a dealer’s right.”

While the MPD indirectly managed to transfer a lot of guns that apparently turned up at crime scenes, the D.C. government has continued to push schemes to attack the firearms industry. Just last year, D.C. politicians pushed a measure that would have permitted lawsuits against firearm industry members for harms caused by their failure to implement “reasonable” controls to prevent firearm trafficking; the loss or theft of firearms; failures to comply with firearm industry obligations to report the sale, transfer, theft, or loss of a firearm; or the unlawful manufacture, sale, possession, marketing, or use of a firearm-related product.

As the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) recently reported, “If nothing else, this latest development may persuade D.C. lawmakers to reconsider the flaw in blaming industries and institutions, rather than individual perpetrators, for crime and violence, especially as one of the institutions involved is the District itself.”

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