TS - Feds eye firearms in Gundersen case

☛ TS Feds eye firearms in Gundersen case (w/ video) 3/07/08

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is involved in an investigation into Blue Lake Police Chief David Gundersen and the stash of high-powered submachine guns found at the department during a February search.

District Attorney Paul Gallegos said the agency has been informed and has a hand in the investigation.

”Whenever you have firearms involved in a case, there is going to be some ATF involvement,” Gallegos said.

The ATF will be considering whether there are federal firearms violations regarding the possession, sale or transport of the three types of submachine guns allegedly found in Blue Lake, or the submachine gun, the pistol fixed with a silencer or other weapons reportedly found in Gundersen's home.

Both state and federal law are fairly clear about possessing a submachine gun or a pistol with a silencer: It's illegal in California, and illegal in the United States without a special permit from the ATF. Under California law, the penalty for possession of a machine gun is an unspecified prison term, up to a $10,000 fine, or both. For possession of a silencer it's the same.

But state law allows a law enforcement agency to buy machine guns, and for officers to have them and silencers -- as long as they use them in an official capacity and within the scope of their duties. In fact, there is no limit on the number of submachine guns an agency can have, said California Department of Justice spokesman Abraham Arredondo.

The Use of Firearms section of the Blue Lake Police Department Manual does not make any reference to submachine guns or silencers.

Any machine gun may be imported by a licensed importer -- H&K is a German manufacturer -- for sale to a law enforcement agency, wrote ATF Senior Special Agent Nina Delgadillo in an e-mail. There is no federal limit on the number or type of machine guns a police agency can possess, Delgadillo also wrote.

No records of 10 H&K UMP 9mm submachine guns found in the search of the Blue Lake department were filed with the state, while other guns there were state-registered, according to the District Attorney's Office. Whether a police department is strictly required to register a submachine gun when it comes into the department's possession is unclear.

Melva Paris, records supervisor for the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, said when the sheriff's department purchases firearms, they are immediately registered into the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, or CLETS.

”We purchase them, and then when we get them they have to go into the CLETS system as an 'institutional weapon,'” Paris said. “(The Department of Justice) has to know who those weapons belong to.”

That's all done with good reason, according to James Broder, a former FBI agent and U.S. State Department employee who now works as an expert witness.

”Obviously, it's done so they can identify them and trace them if they are involved in a crime in the future,” Broder said, adding that agencies want to be able to track officers' lost or stolen weapons, or prevent their use by rogue officers. “The whole key is identification, that's why we do this stuff -- so you can identify the firearm in the event it is used for an illegal purpose.”

So far, Gallegos has charged Gundersen with two gun crimes. They are related to the H&K MP5 submachine gun reportedly found in a safe in his garage and the pistol with a silencer. Gallegos alleges Gundersen was in unlawful possession of both under violations of penal codes related to individuals.

Gundersen has also been charged with 12 counts of spousal rape, one count of kidnapping with the use of a firearm with the intent to rape -- in connection to another alleged victim -- threatening a witness and other crimes.

He has pleaded not guilty to all 19 counts and is currently being held in the Humboldt County Correctional Facility on $1.25 million bail.