Every two months, gun dealers from across the region flock to a Kentucky State Police office with a wish list of weapons in hand.
There are old revolvers, hunting rifles, and cheap semi-automatic pistols. Occasionally, an AK-47 is up for grabs.
Each was confiscated recently by Kentucky law enforcement, perhaps used in a crime or taken in a traffic stop. And each weapon is available, for a price, to the highest bidder.
The Kentucky State Police resell the guns because the law says they have to. Legislation enacted in 1998 requires the agency to auction confiscated weapons to federally licensed firearms dealers, which effectively prevents police departments from destroying guns unless they’re modified or otherwise outlawed in the commonwealth.
This approach, born in Kentucky, has picked up steam across the country with the backing of the National Rifle Association. A recent CNN analysis found that nearly a dozen states since 2009 have passed legislation modeled on Kentucky’s and aimed at ending the police practice of destroying guns kept as evidence.
The NRA, which is holding its annual convention in Louisville this weekend, advocates for auctioning the guns because destroying them is “throwing away money.”
“There’s no reason to destroy a perfectly good firearm once it’s been taken by the police,” said NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter. “These become legal firearms people can buy and use responsibly.”
Indeed, Kentucky’s auctions brought in more than $630,000 last year from 4,144 guns.
KSP keeps 20 percent of the money, and the rest of the funds go to the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security. The money then trickles down to local law enforcement agencies through grants that pay for body armor, firearms, or stun guns.
So far this year, KSP has sold 1,480 weapons. Next week, more than 700 guns will be on the auction block.
A Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting analysis of this year’s confiscated guns, including those up for sale next week, shows that the most common models are inexpensive semi-automatic handguns or pistols. The average sale price is $172.
Lt. Marshall Johnson, commander of the supply branch that oversees the auction, said there’s no obvious trend: the inventory depends on what guns are processed at a given time.
Next week’s auction will undoubtedly draw some dealers who attended the NRA convention. The event has brought people to Louisville from across the country to lobby and advocate for their stances on guns.
On Wednesday, Shameka Parrish-Wright of Louisville watched a blacksmith turn rifles into garden tools. She had no idea the state police resell guns.
“That has to be changed,” Parrish-Wright said. “It’s counterproductive.”
To her, fewer guns means safer streets. She’d rather see police destroy, not recycle, firearms.
“They stop the conversation. They stop resolution. They end everything,” said Parrish-Wright, who knows three people who were fatally shot in recent years.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention group protesting this weekend’s NRA convention, is focused on a different issue.
They want background checks on every single gun sale, but they aren’t concerned with police reselling firearms, said spokeswoman Taylor Maxwell.
“The gun violence prevention movement is focused on background checks. We are all pro-Second Amendment,” Maxwell said. “It’s really about keeping guns out of dangerous hands, not about what police do.”
The guns sold at next week’s auction will end up in private collections, pawn shops and stores large and small. Every auction attendee must pass a federal background check, register with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as Kentucky State Police.
“The firearms and weapons that are listed here are taken out of the hands of people who are not supposed to have them and are sold only to people who are registered and reputable weapons dealers,” said Trooper Kendra Wilson, a KSP spokeswoman.
At next week’s auction, the lot is heavy with handguns. The most popular gun? A Hi-Point C9, a 9 mm handgun that retails starting at $189.
This story was reported by WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.