What happens to guns when police are done with them?

The Sun's Peter Hermann over the weekend wrote about how a Baltimore Police service weapon ended up being used to kill two young girls in Oklahoma. It's a story that examines the Police Department's principled stand not to sell guns back to the manufacturer when police are done with them:

The wanted poster portrays a .40-caliber Glock Model 22 semiautomatic pistol, serial number EKG463US, that resembles thousands of standard-issue guns owned by the Baltimore Police Department.

But this particular weapon found its way out of the hands of law enforcement and into the hands of a suspected killer — an above-board but nightmarish scenario for city police. Authorities say the gun was used three years ago to shoot two young girls on a dirt road outside a rural Oklahoma town.

"I was shocked when I found out the gun came from Baltimore," said Wanda Mankin, the elementary principal of the Graham School, where the victims, Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Jade Whitaker, 11, shared a classroom for fifth- and sixth-graders. "How did that gun get here from so far away?"

Baltimore police — whose commissioner coined the crime-fighting strategy of targeting "bad guys with guns" — are very sensitive to the fate of their old weapons. The department refuses to sell guns back to manufacturers, and has barred officers from buying their guns when they retire.

In 2001, city police refused to sell thousands of 9 mm handguns back to Glock when the agency switched over to .40-caliber because officials were concerned about adding to the proliferation of weapons on the streets. The principled stand cost the city more than $500,000 in rebates.

Even with such precautions, though, guns can get into the wrong hands, so police still worry about the ramifications of the most innocent transfer. The gun pictured on the poster, for example, had been returned to Glock because it was broken, and now Oklahoma authorities are trying to find it as part of the double-murder case. They're offering a $5,000 reward.

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