Sheriff’s Deputies in California Charged with Selling Illegal Guns

On Friday, June 1, federal prosecutors announced that they were charging two sheriff’s deputies for illegally selling weapons. Authorities are concerned that some of these weapons ended up in the possession of criminals.

Deputies Ryan McGowan and Thomas Lu are Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies. They face charges of trafficking in illegal handguns. Some of the weapons they are charged with selling include high-powered rifles. A firearms dealer and a buyer are also being charged. Two other police officers have been implicated in the illegal weapons dealing but have not yet been charged.

The deputies are charged with engaging in a firearms business without a license. This offense carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Weapons Sold to Unqualified Buyers

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated the allegation that the deputies engaged in trafficking of illegal handguns.

In California, citizens are prohibited from buying handguns that are not approved by the California Department of Justice. The law does not apply to peace officers. Law enforcement and military members who are looking to sell their personal weapons must use a registered firearms dealer.

California law creates an approved roster of firearms that are eligible for sale to the public. These firearms are deemed “safe” for public use. The law requires licensed dealers to ensure that any handgun they sell is on the approved roster. The law allows an exemption for peace officers to purchase so-called “off-roster” firearms. These firearms are high-capacity and are classified as too dangerous for use by citizens. State law prohibits law enforcement officers from selling off-roster firearms with the intent to make a profit.

Abused their Status as Peace Officers

U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagoner said that the deputies used their positions to obtain weapons and then sold those weapons to unqualified buyers.

McGowan and Lu are charged with abusing their position as peace officers to purchase weapons and selling them to unqualified buyers at a profit. The weapons at issue include semiautomatic pistols that share the same long-range ammunition used by the military. They also include high-powered rifles.

William Portanova, an attorney for McGowan, claims that the deputy is a gun enthusiast who has never intended to make a profit from selling his guns.

Since 2008, McGowan has purchased 41 handguns. He resold 25 handguns. In the same time period, Lu purchased 27 and resold 23 handguns.

Weapons Eventually Sold to Criminals

Jan Scully, the Sacramento County District Attorney, stated that at least three of the weapons that McGowan sold  ended up with criminals. One of the criminals is a convicted drug dealer. Two weapons were converted into assault weapons. There is no evidence that suggests that the deputies intended the weapons to end up in the hands of criminals.

Both Lu and McGowan worked in Elk Grove at the Rio Cosumnes Correction Center. Lu has since resigned from his position. McGowan is on paid administrative leave during the investigation.

Lawmakers Want to Close Loopholes in Law

California lawmaker Roger Dickinson has proposed legislation to close a loophole in the state law. The current law does not require dealers to determine whether the weapons are considered “unsafe handguns” as defined by the state law. Under the proposed bill AB2460, the dealers would only be able to sell unsafe handguns to other law enforcement officers or members of the military.

AB2460 passed the Assembly in May. It is currently pending action in the California Senate.

Ryan Devereux works with police and lawmakers on a daily basis. His goal toward is to end injuries that result in litigation.

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