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Editorial: What were L.A. probation officials thinking? Public agencies should not profit from firearm sales

An officer displays recovered guns from residents turning in firearms
A Los Angeles Police Department officer displays recovered guns from residents turning in firearms at a “Gun Buy Back” event taking place in three locations across Los Angeles on Dec. 5, 2020.
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images)
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It boggles the mind. As some Los Angeles County leaders were rushing to the scene in Monterey Park where 11 people were fatally shot with a 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol Saturday, other county officials were preparing to put hundreds more handguns — all of them 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistols — on the street.

An auction website known as GovDeals was offering a “Big Lot of Firearms” made up of 337 Smith & Wesson and Beretta handguns with magazines. Many had never been fired. The highest bid as of Monday was $25,000.

The seller was the Los Angeles County Probation Department.

Supervisor Hilda Solis had spent two days at the shooting scene and at hospitals visiting survivors when her staff was informed by a Times editorial writer of the auction.

“I’m dismayed,” she said. She should be.

We may not know the motive for the Monterey Park attack amid Lunar New Year festivities, but we know how the mass killer committed his act: He had a gun.

Jan. 22, 2023

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Solis introduced a motion at Tuesday’s supervisors’ meeting to stop the sale and to get to the bottom of it. By Monday afternoon — after the fatal shooting of seven people near Half Moon Bay — the Probation Department had pulled out of the auction on its own. The current administration said in a statement that the sale had been “initiated more than two years ago under the department’s former administration,” but that the department approved putting the guns up for auction earlier this month.

The department said it will use an “alternative method” to unload the guns.

Law enforcement agencies periodically buy back guns from the public to melt them down and keep them off the street. It is hypocritical and worse than senseless if those guns are merely replaced by weapons to be put into circulation by the government itself.

The same can be said of the millions of dollars the county has poured into an Office of Violence Prevention to curb gun violence, if it’s simultaneously trafficking in weapons.

Good for Solis for demanding answers, and for the board for adopting the motion late Tuesday. Here are some more questions she and her colleagues ought to ask: Where did these guns come from? What other county agencies (Sheriff’s Department, for example) use weapons and how do they dispose of them when they are no longer needed? How is it possible that so many Probation Department guns were never fired, even on a range? How long has the county been in the business of putting deadly weapons on the street?

And how on Earth could the Board of Supervisors be unaware of an auction like this going on under its own nose? And will county officials finally adopt policies that ensure more guns don’t end up on the street?

Updates

6:38 p.m. Jan. 24, 2023: This editorial has been updated to reflect new information after a Tuesday meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

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