It is perfectly legal for police departments in Pennsylvania and many other states to sell confiscated firearms to federally licensed gun shops.
Nevertheless, several large law enforcement agencies in the Philadelphia region say it's a bad idea.
"We melt our guns," said Bill Shralow, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office. He cited a state policy that calls for the destruction of seized property that "presents a danger to the public."
"I don't like taking guns used in crimes and putting them back out there," Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor said. "I think our policy is pretty much common sense."
Gun laws vary radically from state to state, even county to county, said Joe Vince, president of Crime Guns Solutions, a Virginia firm that consults with law enforcement groups to prevent gun violence. He also serves on the Firearms Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Since the early 1990s, he said, New York and California have prohibited police departments from selling guns because some weapons seized and sold had been used to kill police officers.
But many counties in the South require police to sell guns, Vince said. Some Texas counties auction guns to the public rather than sell them through licensed dealers, he said.
The police resale of confiscated weapons has rarely surfaced in the national firearms debate, said Andrew Arulanandam, a National Rifle Association spokesman.
He said seized weapons should be treated like any other forfeited property. "Whether it is a house or a car or a firearm or a set of golf clubs, you're talking about objects that by themselves cannot commit crimes," Arulanandam said.
Fred Wilson of the National Sheriffs' Association said that "the common practice is to destroy weapons that have been handed in. . . . It would be a rarity for these weapons to go back on the open market."
Indeed, a random check of a half-dozen departments in the area found none like Upper Darby's, whose police for years turned over masses of seized weapons to gun dealers.
Philadelphia destroys nearly all confiscated guns, a spokesman said. Montgomery County uses some for training, and sells others to a law enforcement supply company that resells weapons only to other police departments.
The Delaware County Sheriff's Office destroys guns as well, though Sheriff Joseph F. McGinn said he had mixed feelings.
"To destroy them means there's one less gun on the street. On the other hand, by selling them, it's an opportunity to get revenue," he said. "My personal opinion, I'd sell them."