WASHINGTON -- Two guns used in high-profile shootings this year at the Pentagon and a Las Vegas courthouse both came from the same unlikely place: the police and court system of Memphis, Tenn.
Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that both guns were once seized in criminal cases in Memphis. The officials described how the weapons made their separate ways from an evidence vault to gun dealers and to the shooters.
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 probes, but others sell or trade the weapons in order to get other guns or buy equipment such as bulletproof vests.
In fact, on the day of the Pentagon shooting, March 4, the Tennessee governor signed legislation revising state law on confiscated guns. Before, law enforcement agencies in the state had the option of destroying a gun. Under the new version, agencies can only destroy a gun if it's inoperable or unsafe.
Kentucky has a similar law, but it's not clear how many other states have laws specifically designed to promote the police sale or trade of confiscated weapons.
A nationwide review by The Associated Press in December found that over the previous two years, 24 states - mostly in the South and West, where gun-rights advocates are particularly strong - have passed 47 new laws loosening gun restrictions. Gun rights groups are making a greater effort to pass favorable legislation in state capitals.
John Timoney, who led the Philadelphia and Miami police departments and served as New York's No. 2 police official, said he doesn't believe police departments should be putting more guns into the market.
"I just think it's unseemly for police departments to be selling guns that later turn up," he said, recalling that he had once been offered the chance to sell guns to raise money for the police budget.
"Obviously, we always need the money but I just said, `No, we will take the loss and get rid of the guns'," said the former police chief, who now works for Andrews International, a security consulting firm.
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 as sold by a judge's order and the proceeds given to the Memphis-area sheriff's office. Neither weapon was sold by the Memphis law enforcement agencies directly to the men who later used them to shoot officers.
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.
The history of the two guns in the recent attacks was described by officials from multiple law enforcement agencies on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the investigations.