By: Joseph Warta
Back at the end of November, the Los Angeles Times broke a story about the LAPD that hasn’t been getting much traction in the mainstream media. It’s an easy one to overlook, but it’s an important story to be aware of.
This story comes from one of the most restrictive cities in one of the restrictive states in the country for firearms, and it’s a great example of the case that pro-gun activists constantly make: the police cannot be the arbiters of firearm policy, and many of them can’t even be trusted to uphold the law they pretend to serve. This is why it’s laughable when those who want to defund the police and constantly point to police abuse of power somehow advocate for police being the only armed ones in our society at the same time.
The story began when Archi Duenas, former manager of the LAPD Police Academy’s gun store, was arrested in early 2020 for allegedly stealing guns from the academy’s store and reselling them to other officers. Duenas had been reprimanded in the past for sloppy paperwork, so his mess was already at least somewhat known. But he was able to keep the extent of the true fraud hidden for several years, because he didn’t ever take any vacation, so he alone was able to conduct the nightly count. After Duenas reached his maximum number of vacation hours and was forced to take time off, the fraud was discovered when someone else conducted the audit. Investigators found that Duenas had been stealing guns from the academy’s gun store and had been reselling them for cash to LAPD officers and LA County Sheriff’s officers.
The fraud seems to have involved several other officers buying guns from him, at a steep discount, in cash. At least five officers are accused of knowingly purchasing stolen firearms, and many others were done without filling out the proper paperwork, but only two of the purchasers have charges pending. One other officer has an unrelated charge pending on unsafe storage of a firearm, where he had a loaded handgun in an unlocked safe, accessible to his young son.
As detectives dug further into the incident, they found that it seemed officers were involved in more than just buying cheap guns in a sketchy manner. It also appeared that they were selling them, and even breaking firearm laws even more than initially expected. The captain in charge of investigating the issue, Captain Lillian Carranza, noted that one officer, Captain Steve Embrich, had sold 36 guns in the last four years and had 37 on consignment, many of which were “off-roster” guns. (In California, there is an approved roster of firearms that can be sold commercially, so those that are “off-roster” are generally higher value, because they are more difficult to buy in the state.) Captain Jonathan Tom, another officer, was found with 11 rifles and seven shotguns with no record of a registered owner, and two guns that were registered to different people. Tom did state that he received those rifles and shotguns before he were required to register them. Of course, there is little or no way of verifying this.
In the midst of this purported corruption is, well, even more corruption. Captain Carranza, in a quote to the LA Times, said: “There have been several attempts to shut down this investigation.” Detectives under Carranza were assigned to investigate the matter and reported intimidation from within the department. Carranza accused Captain Brian Morrison of telling investigators that they were “pissing off the gun community,” which she saw as a veiled threat. Carranza also alleged that Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher forced an interview with Tom by her investigators, even though they weren’t yet prepared to do so. Another officer, Sergeant Marlon Marrache, is alleged to have tipped off an officer involved in the scheme that his locker was going to be searched.
The problem with the majority of this story is not really the situation itself. Criminal charges for storing a loaded gun in an unlocked safe seems like an overreach – the officer said that the gun was in the control and custody of his wife. Even buying guns without filling out the proper paperwork doesn’t seem like a huge infraction. Most gun owners would agree that the majority of California’s gun laws are asinine and unconstitutional. The problem is who it was that committed the crimes, and what the reaction has been. Why is it that California has highly restrictive gun laws, but the people who are charged with enforcing those laws get a pass when they break the laws?
The most outrageous part of the entire story was captured in a quote from the LA Times: “Duenas, who initially faced 25 criminal counts and more than a dozen years in prison, instead received probation in August after pleading no contest to felony grand theft of a firearm and a single misdemeanor count of illegally transferring a firearm.”
So stealing firearms, selling them illegally, and covering up all of the fraud is punishable by a slap on the wrist… as long as you’re an LAPD insider?
While it would be easy to feign shock at the LAPD’s actions both during and in the aftermath of the scheme, it really isn’t shocking at all. It’s par for the course for government bureaucrats: rules for thee, but not for me. The LAPD will enforce some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but will flout those laws themselves when it comes to their own infractions.
This story harks back somewhat to Operation Fast and Furious from the early days of the Obama Administration. Under Operation Fast and Furious, nearly 2,000 firearms were illegally sold to the Mexican cartel. This was a failed attempt at an investigation into the cartel, where the government would sell a gun to someone connected with the cartel, then they would trace the gun up the food chain and ultimately that would help them stop the cartel… in theory.
Whistleblowers later revealed that the ATF made no real efforts to trace the guns after they crossed the border. Of the nearly 2,000 guns distributed, only several hundred have actually been recovered. Then, the White House covered it up, Attorney General Eric Holder was held in criminal contempt of Congress, and a whole battle in Congress ensued. But the important point here is that no one went to jail for it. No one was even truly held responsible for it. Holder was held in contempt of Cfor trying to cover it up… which means nothing. He’s now senior counsel at a Washington, DC law firm.
The ATF, which is charged with enforcing our federal firearms laws, is no better than any other bureaucracy. Just as the ATF can literally arm Mexican cartels and suffer no repercussions, so, too, can these officers in the LAPD flagrantly break firearms laws and go right back to enforcing California’s unconstitutional gun laws.
So this is the problem with gun laws, and restrictive government policy in general. Americans can’t trust our government to administer the law fairly because they don’t follow the very same laws they’re supposed to enforce in the first place. Many of those who argue for gun control argue that only the government should be armed. So the average citizen shouldn’t be able to own an AR-15, but the police and military can. This would be a fair argument, if we knew that the military and police were the better angels among us. But they aren’t. The military and police are comprised of people just like you andme: fallible humans who are sometimes disposed to break rules. So while this is an accepted fact of life with a government, and this is certainly no argument for abolishing the police, it’s important to be reminded that the government should not be the only ones entrusted with guns.