A surface-to-air missile launcher was among the items turned in to the Seattle Police Department during its gun buyback day on Monday. Police witnessed one person outside of the buyback purchasing the military-grade weapon, which is not legally available to civilians, from another for $100.
The scene was troubling, in part because it highlighted the ease with which heavy firepower can change hands under the radar. Though the device is single-use, and had already been deployed, state officials are also worried about how a civilian got his or her hands on the weapon in the first place. They are working to track down its origin, the AP reports:
Seattle police worked with Army officials Monday to track down the history of a nonfunctional missile launcher that showed up at a weapons buyback program and determine whether it was legal or possibly stolen from the military.[...]
“Once it’s brought on base and investigators have a chance to look at it, they’ll see what they can determine,” Army spokesman Joe Kubistek said Monday. “It’s too early to give any information on it until we have hands-on access to see it and take a look at it.”
Gun buyback programs are not the most effective method for getting guns off the street. Too often, people who turn in weapons that are broken or legally purchased simply because they need the money. The Seattle buyback unearthed four stolen guns total, out of the 716 collected.
Still, the appearance of a missile launcher — and the private sale of the weapon before it was turned over to the police — does serve to underline the danger of having no system in place to track military weapons or illegal firearms.
Two anti-tank rocket launchers were also uncovered during a Los Angeles buyback last month.