ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Parts of guns seized by police are sometimes making their way back into the public’s hands in an unusual way.
In October, FOX 2 showed you how thousands of confiscated firearms are destroyed in a west St. Louis County pulverizer every month.
Police inventory each gun and make note of the type of crime for which it was used before a court order can be signed for its destruction. When the case is closed and the courts allow, some police departments dispose of the firearms using a private business called GunBusters. The firearm shredding is recorded with two cameras so that you can see the serial number of the weapon being destroyed.
“We want that verification, and that’s another really good thing about GunBusters: Not only will our evidence technician witness a gun being destroyed, but we are provided with video evidence,” Sgt. Robert Powell, Chesterfield Police Department, said in October.
Parts of those guns, however, can later be found for sale online. St. Ann Police Captain Blake Carrigan said that’s not a surprise to police.
“We know that going on. It’s just like any other business,” he said. “Anytime a firearm, a vehicle, anytime it goes into salvage, some components get broken down. Different parts get sold; some get destroyed.”
FOX 2 reached out to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has clear instructions on How to Properly Destroy Firearms on its website.
As an ATF spokesperson explained, “A firearm by definition is the frame or receiver.” That’s the part of the firearm that holds the required markings. “With very few exceptions, firearm parts and accessories are not regulated under federal law.”
GunBusters has video proof of destroying what’s legally defined as a firearm. It acknowledges sometimes selling unregulated parts while offering its destruction services to police for free.
“The money that we save—as everybody knows, law enforcement is evolving, and there’s different positions that are being created,” Carrigan said. “We have a mental health coordinator that works with people in crisis and his salary could very well come from the money we save from using GunBusters.”
One potential consequence, according to the ATF, is that gun parts can be used to build privately-made firearms—also known as “ghost guns”—because they’re not required to have a serial number unless they’re sold by a dealer.
GunBusters company president Scott Reed said there’s a demand for repair parts, telling us, “People have compared our services to an automobile scrapyard, where they are able to obtain parts needed for repairs.”
Carrigan gave us a similar analogy regarding a car that police might take after a crime.
“It goes to salvage,” he said. “…if the owner does not pick it up, the tow yard takes possession of that vehicle, and they can sell it for parts. It can get destroyed.”
FOX 2 checked with six police departments that use GunBusters, including Chesterfield and St. Ann, to find out if anyone has reconsidered using the firearm destruction service. All of them answered that they would continue with this process.