The Memphis Police Department has signed a deal with a Tennessee firearms dealer to trade more than 500 confiscated guns for 33 new assault rifles. The dealer will sell the confiscated guns on the open market.
It's all legal and MPD Director Toney Armstrong says it's a way to save the city thousands of dollars. But he told FOX13 it's not ideal.
"In a perfect world certainly I would like to say that we would probably take another route," Armstrong said.
There's no guarantee the guns won't be used in a crime. It has happened before. In 2010 a man opened fire on the Pentagon shooting two police officers. Federal agents tracked the gun he used back to Memphis. It had been confiscated after a crime but it was traded to a gun dealer in a similar deal back in 2008.
But the department is doing what it can to prevent those types of situations according to Armstrong.
Certainly any gun that falls into the hands of any, illegally falls into the hands of anybody worries me," Armstrong said.
The director said the department only works with reputable firearms dealers.
"We're hoping they do their due diligence as far as background checks and making sure that they're selling those guns to people that should have them," Armstrong added.
The 33 M4 style assault rifles will go to the MPD's TACT Unit. Armstrong told FOX13 his officers need the weapons to respond to threats facing the city including active shooters. Officers around the country are finding themselves outgunned by criminals the director said.
"I have to make sure that we try to stay one step above that and sometime staying one step above that means that we have to be creative and that's what we're doing," Armstrong said.
Fighting gun violence is a top priority for Mayor A C Wharton and his administration. But he supports the gun trade.
"We're stretched financially. We have a chance to make sure that our officers have what they need them I'm going to air on the side of making sure that the officers have what they need," Wharton told FOX13.
Trades are allowed under Tennessee state law. In fact these trades are one of the few ways police departments can get rid of guns. State law prohibits departments from destroying working firearms. Some departments like Metro Nashville warehouse their confiscated weapons.
But Wharton told FOX13 the city's financial situation is driving the decision to trade for new police weapons.
"In a perfect world I would say no we'll just stockpile them somewhere and then we would know that legal or otherwise this gun is not going back out on the streets," Wharton said.
© 2018 Cox Media Group.