Two guns used in high-profile shootings this year at the Pentagon and a Las Vegas courthouse came from the same unlikely place: the police and court system of Memphis.
The use of guns that once were in police custody and were later involved in attacks on police officers highlights a little-known divide in gun policy in the United States: Many cities and states destroy guns gathered in criminal inquiries, but others sell or trade the weapons in order to get other guns or buy equipment such as bulletproof vests.
On the day of the Pentagon shooting, March 4, the Tennessee governor signed legislation revising state law on confiscated guns. Before, law enforcement agencies had the option of destroying a gun. Under the new version, agencies can only destroy a gun if it's inoperable or unsafe.
A spokeswoman for the Memphis police said gun swaps are a way to save taxpayer money.
One of the weapons in the Pentagon attack was seized by Memphis police in 2005 and later traded to a gun dealer; the gun used in the Jan. 4 courthouse shooting in Las Vegas was sold by a judge's order and the proceeds given to the Memphis area Sheriff's Office. In both cases, the weapons first went to licensed gun dealers, but later came into the hands of men who were legally barred from possessing them: one a convicted felon; the other mentally ill.
At the Pentagon, John Patrick Bedell carried two 9 mm handguns, one a Ruger.
Bedell, who has a history of severe psychiatric problems, was sent a letter by California authorities on Jan. 10 telling him he was prohibited from buying a gun because of his mental history.
Nineteen days later, he bought the Ruger at a gun show in Las Vegas. Such a sale by a private individual does not require the kind of background check that would have stopped the purchase.
The gun already had changed hands among gun dealers in Georgia and Pennsylvania by the time Bedell bought it. Officer Karen Rudolph, a Memphis police spokeswoman, said her department traded the weapon to a dealer in 2008 for a different gun that was better for police work.
The Ruger had sat in Memphis police storage for years at that point, after being confiscated from a convicted felon at a 2005 traffic stop.
The trail of the gun used at the Las Vegas federal courthouse is older and harder to pin down. Johnny Lee Wicks, an elderly man enraged over cuts to his Social Security benefits, opened fire with the shotgun at the security entrance to the courthouse. One officer, Stanley Cooper, was killed and another wounded.
Wicks, like Bedell, was killed by officers' return fire.
Before that courthouse attack, what records exist suggest officers in Memphis confiscated that gun in 1998.
A judge in Memphis ordered the sale of the shotgun as part of a criminal case, and the proceeds of that sale went to the Shelby County Sheriff's Office, confirmed sheriff's spokesman Steve Shular.
He said the gun dealer who bought it later sold the weapon to a dealer in Nevada. It is not clear how Wicks got the shotgun.