California Police Are Buying Guns From Dealers With Troubling Records

Law enforcement agencies across California have spent millions in taxpayer funds purchasing weapons from dealers with a history of failing to comply with federal firearms regulations, according to a new analysis by the nonprofit Brady: United Against Gun Violence.

The analysis reveals that at least 90 California law enforcement agencies have spent more than $20 million buying firearms, ammunition, and other gear from at least six federally licensed firearms dealers with a history of violating firearms laws — including failing to report sales involving multiple weapons, a key indicator for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in identifying straw purchasers and potential firearms trafficking.

“Using taxpayer money to buy guns from dealers with a history of noncompliance with gun safety laws is counterproductive, to say the least,” said Erica Rice, program manager for Brady’s Combating Crime Guns Initiative.

The review is part of Brady’s ongoing Gun Store Transparency Project, a collection of thousands of records from the ATF regarding enforcement actions the agency has taken against licensed gun sellers for serious violations of federal law. The nonprofit reviewed six years of law enforcement purchasing records obtained via public records requests made by the American Friends Service Committee as part of a project tracing the militarization of police agencies in California. Brady then cross-checked those records against ATF inspection reports to reveal that dozens of law enforcement agencies have purchased goods from dealers whose practices may be putting public safety at risk.

LC Action Police Supply in San Jose, for example, a “high-volume dealer” whose clientele is predominately law enforcement agencies, state-certified private security officers, and other firearms dealers, according to the ATF, has been cited for 41 violations of federal firearms laws — the majority repeat infractions — during eight inspections since 1995.

During a 2018 inspection, the most recent report available, the ATF cited LC Action for seven violations, including failing to timely report a sale of multiple weapons and failing to record various background check information. The inspection prompted inspectors to recommend a “warning conference” — the most serious action the agency can take short of revoking a dealer’s license. It was the third time since 2009 that LC Action had faced a warning conference; the dealer’s 2005 inspection resulted in a recommendation that its license be revoked, an action the agency ultimately did not take.

Nonetheless, according to the Brady analysis, California law enforcement agencies spent nearly $19 million at LC Action between 2015 and 2021, with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spending the most, at more than $14 million.

Kip Miller, co-owner of LC Action, wrote in an email that a number of the violations were actually the result of errors made by the ATF inspector and not due to LC Action’s noncompliance. The company takes its business “seriously and responsibly,” he said. Miller did not respond to requests from The Intercept for documentation reflecting corrections or acknowledgment of error by the ATF.

Brady also reviewed more than $4 million in purchases from Adamson Police Products by 64 law enforcement agencies. Adamson has its own troubling history with the ATF. In 2016, the agency found that the dealer’s Livermore store violated federal requirements regarding the possession and sale of short-barrel rifles, which are subject to stringent regulation. One of those weapons ultimately went missing, according to ATF records. As a result, Adamson’s owner demoted an employee, the records show. In all, the ATF has cited Adamson for 25 violations of firearms laws (at least 11 of them were repeat violations) during six inspections since 2003, according to records obtained by Brady, resulting in two warning conferences.

Adamson Police Products owner Jim Cunningham did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment.

According to Brady, cities across the U.S. spend more than $5 billion per year on guns alone (ammunition and other supplies account for billions more), with taxpayers footing the bill.

The ATF has recognized that federal firearms licensees are the front line against the diversion of firearms into the illegal market, and there is evidence that dealer business practices can lead to reductions in trafficking and crime. That’s why it’s critical to ensure that dealers comply with gun laws, Brady says, and that government entities purchasing weapons do so only from responsible dealers that adopt model policies like the Gun Dealer Code of Conduct.

California has among the country’s most extensive gun regulations, and yet taxpayer dollars in communities throughout the state — from Orange County to Humboldt County — are still being used to buy firearms from dealers that have racked up serious infractions. The purchasing records reviewed by Brady represent just a fraction of the state’s 531 law enforcement agencies — meaning that many more agencies could be supplied by problematic dealers. And while there were more than 130,000 active federal firearms licensees in 2020, the ATF was able to inspect less than 6,000 of them. In other words, Rice said, what the California data reveals may represent the tip of the iceberg.

“The data we have is a snapshot. It comes from a small percentage of California’s law enforcement agencies and a small percentage of ATF inspection reports,” she said. “California has some of the strongest gun laws in the country. So if taxpayer dollars in California are being spent at gun dealers who have been cited for violating the law, then it is likely happening in other states too.”

It should be a simple ask for government agencies to direct their purchasing power to responsible dealers, said Joshua Scharff, general counsel and director of programs at Brady. “Procurement policies that properly vet dealers and promote responsible firearms sales [are] low-hanging fruit in the fight to prevent gun violence,” he said.

In 2019, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order directing the state’s Division of Purchase and Property to assess whether the firearms dealers it does business with “adhere to public safety principles relating to firearms.” Last spring, Brady released a report on New Jersey’s efforts, which it said were successful in both “promoting gun safety and laying a strong foundation for future action.”

After the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, officials in Toledo, Ohio, including Police Chief George Kral, announced that the city would only buy weapons from dealers deemed responsible; in 2019, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution encouraging member cities to take similar action, though it is unclear how many have done so. Still, limiting purchases to dealers who take their responsibility for reducing gun violence seriously is a viable way forward for state and local governments — and perhaps particularly useful for cities and counties in places like Texas, where statewide leadership is hostile to gun regulation.

Rice said it’s important not to lose sight of how the kind of data contained in Brady’s analysis impacts people and communities. “Law enforcement is tasked with protecting and serving communities, so it is critical the public ensures they are not purchasing from the same dealers who may be contributing to rising rates of shootings and homicides,” she said. “The least we should be willing to accept is responsible stewardship of our tax dollars.”

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