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Police Gun Used in Bank Shootout Up for Auction

TIMES STAFF WRITER

To some it’s just a hunk of finely machined steel with deadly potential. To others, it may be a piece of history with a premium price tag.

A 9-millimeter Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol may bring more than the going price at auction, according to a Simi Valley gun dealer, because it was fired by an LAPD detective in the blazing gunfight with two armor-clad bank robbers in North Hollywood.

Chris Biller, manager of Greta’s Firearms & Training, said he acquired the gun when the officer, who asked not to be identified, traded it in for a more powerful 15-shot .45-caliber semiautomatic.

Biller, who served 28 years in the LAPD, said he told the detective that the gun could be worth thousands of dollars to collectors because it was used in a notorious gunfight, and they agreed to offer the gun for sale by auction and split any profits.

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“Some people may think it’s gruesome, but this gunfight was an extraordinary event and there are plenty of collectors in the Midwest and Texas who would want to purchase an authenticated gun from a cop who was there,” Biller said.

The Smith & Wesson Corp. seemed pleased when it found out about the gun, Biller said. Executives of the Springfield, Mass.-based manufacturer thought that the LAPD officers had all used a competitor’s handgun in the much-publicized fight Feb. 28.

“But Smith & Wesson didn’t show much interest in obtaining the gun for themselves,” Biller said. “They referred me to an East Coast auctioneer who may be interested.” Biller is waiting for a reply from the auctioneer as well as from a Southern California auctioneer.

The 9-millimeter Beretta is the standard issue sidearm for Los Angeles police officers, who are allowed to buy and carry similar guns with departmental permission.

Whether other officers involved in the gunfight could profit off their handguns is not clear.

According to some auction houses, the guns that the two bank robbers, Larry Eugene Phillips Jr. and Emil Matasareanu, used may have more value to collectors than the police weapons.

“I think more people may want to get their hands on the robbers’ guns, primarily because of their notoriety and the fact that there were only two of them, compared with the hundreds of cops who were at the scene,” said Ira Goldberg, an auctioneer at Superior Auction Galleries in Beverly Hills.

But those guns are probably unobtainable. The robbers’ most dramatic armament, the assault rifles that ripped off withering blasts of bullets at surrounding police, were illegally converted to machine guns. Under federal law, they could not be sold to most private citizens. Other weapons, including several handguns, could theoretically be sold, but Los Angeles Police Department policy is to destroy seized guns after legal proceedings are completed.

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During the shootout, police borrowed six semiautomatic rifles, two semiautomatic shotguns and four cases of ammunition, together worth about $8,000 from B & B Sales in North Hollywood. A salesman at B & B declined to say whether there was any interest from gun collectors in buying them.

But the manager of Pony Express Guns & Archery in North Hills expressed skepticism that the weapons from the North Hollywood shootout will hold historical value.

“A gun becomes valuable to collectors only because of the person who used it or the event it was used in,” said the manager, who preferred to remain anonymous. “Jesse James’ guns are valuable because of who he was. The guns that Custer used in the Battle of Little Big Horn would have great value as well.”

But events like the North Hollywood shootout are too common these days, he said. “I think that this event will fade from people’s memories,” he said.

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Used 9-millimeter police Berettas, even those used by law officers in a gunfight, sell for only about $250 on the open market, he said.


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