What is the life cycle of a handgun used by Spokane police officers?
Without a definitive answer to that question, the Spokane City Council is holding up a purchase of new firearms.
The police department requested in March that the City Council increase its annual purchase agreement with Gunarama Wholesale from $49,000 to $64,000, which department leaders explained is necessary as it hires new officers, replaces old weapons and seeks to take advantage of technological improvements in weapon sights.
“We anticipate doing new hires later in the fall, and that will probably more than eat up that (remaining) amount,” Maj. Mike McNab told the council last month.
When the department retires a gun, it trades it into Gunarama for a small credit that it uses toward the purchase of new guns, McNab explained to the council’s Public Safety and Community Health Committee.
The wholesaler, with which the city signed a contract in 2017, works exclusively with law enforcement “and other fully licensed retailers in the area,” McNab said.
The latter category of potential buyers gives City Council members like Lori Kinnear, who chairs the Public Safety and Community Health Committee, a bit of pause.
She wonders where, and in whose hands, these guns end up.
“I want to make sure those guns don’t end up in the hands of civilians,” Kinnear said, expressing concern that a gun formerly owned by the city could end up used in the commission of a crime.
On Monday, McNab told the City Council he is working to obtain answers to the City Council’s questions, but asked that the request for additional funding be delayed in the meantime.
McNab also said the department may be able to make do with its current firearm budget.
The department cut back on new gun purchases in 2020 as it looked for budget savings amid the coronavirus pandemic, which officials at the time feared could be catastrophic for the city budget.
Now, the department is looking to catch up, explained department spokesperson Julie Humphreys, but the savings from last year’s budget did not roll over.
“We’re behind on replacing guns,” Humphreys said.
There’s no set time for how long a gun lasts. It largely depends on how regularly they’re used for practice. A SWAT officer might practice shooting twice a week, Humphreys said, compared to maybe twice a year for a regular patrol officer.
“We want something that is reliable, and these guns are inspected annually in-depth. Sometimes a part might need to be replaced, and sometimes a whole gun needs to be replaced,” Humphreys said. “That comes through constant inspection.”
A standard issue Glock handgun issued to patrol officers costs the department $409 to purchase.
The number of handguns traded in to Gunarama, and their value, was not immediately available on Tuesday, according to Humphreys. The Spokane Police Department does not buy used or refurbished guns.
Whatever the savings achieved by trading in its used guns, Kinnear argues it’s likely not worth it.
“I want to explore another path here. I understand what they’re trying to do but we’re talking about a tiny amount of money they would get back from these used weapons, and it’s not worth the chance that these guns would end up killing somebody.”
As an alternative, the city is working to understand what it would cost to have the department’s used weapons destroyed.
Unlike those used by officers, guns that are seized by the department are always destroyed and not resold.
It’s unclear how much the handguns turned in by the department play a role in the gun market.
This year there have been 83,378 background checks conducted for handgun purchases in Washington state through March, according to FBI statistics, although the number of background checks is not necessarily the exact number sold.
Some cities have already stepped back from the gun market.
In 2016, the Seattle City Council adopted a policy that committed to destroying all of the police department’s used guns, foregoing the $30,000 a year their resale brought in revenue, the Seattle Times reported.
Retiring Seattle officers have the option to purchase their service weapon. Otherwise, if it’s a gun leaving the Seattle Police Department, it’s going to be destroyed, according to Seattle Police Sgt. Randy Huserik.
Gunarama, which is based in Spokane, did not return a request for comment.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.