What Law Enforcement Says About Assault Weapons
Following several high-profile mass shootings and attacks on law enforcement involving military-style assault weapons, Congress enacted the federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994. The ban expired on September 13, 2004 without any consideration or action by Congress, despite the pleas of law enforcement officials across the country. Today, our nation’s police find themselves increasingly outgunned by criminals armed with sophisticated firearms and detachable, high-capacity ammuniton magazines (the manufacture of magazines holding more than 10 rounds was prohibited under the federal ban). The following timeline examines law enforcement’s experience with assault weapons since the federal ban lapsed:
March 2, 2011-“There is no reason that a peaceful society based on the rule of law needs its citizenry armed with 30-round [ammunition] magazines,” states Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck during a news conference.” Such magazines transform a gun “into a weapon of mass death rather than a home protection-type device,” Beck notes.
February 26, 2011-Referring to increasing seizures of semiautomatic assault weapons that are trafficked in from outside states, Brockton (Massachusetts) Police Department Captain Emanuel Gomes says, “We’re literally outgunned. You’re talking about the kind of firepower that can go through vehicles, through vests, and that can literally go through a house.”
January 16, 2011-After one of his officers is ambushed by a teenager wielding a semiautomatic AR-15 and fired at 26 times, Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty tells The Oklahoman, “There are just more and more assault rifles out there, and it is becoming a bigger threat to law enforcement each day. They are outgunned.” Citty states that he sees “no practical reason” why a civilian would need an AR-15 or similiar military-style weapon.
November 21, 2010-Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda states,”In my opinion, [AK-47 rifles and other high-powered semiautomatic assault weapons] exist for one purpose and one purpose only and that is to kill.”
November 15, 2010-After losing his son and another officer in a shootout to sovereign citizens armed with a semiautomatic AK-47, West Memphis [Arkansas] Police Chief Bob Paudert purchases 30 AR-15s for use by patrol officers in the field. “We’re going to protect our officers,” he says. “Our times have changed. And we’ve got to change with our times. We cannot allow our officers to continue to be killed.”
October 25, 2010-Ten national law enforcement organizations form the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence. Founding members are the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc., Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Major Cities Chief Association, National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Sheriffs’ Association, Police Executive Research Forum, and the Police Foundation. The partnership is described as “an unprecedented joint effort by law enforcement leaders to address gun violence in an era of shrinking law enforcement budgets and rising levels of officer deaths.” In their Statement of Principles, the new coalition states, “As law enforcement organizations, we believe the level and lethality of gun violence directed at police officers requires an organized and aggressive response from policy makers at the federal, state, and local levels.”
July 16, 2010-Following the shooting of Philadelphia police officer Kevin Livewell by gunmen wielding two semiautomatic assault rifles (an AK-47 and SKS) with 30-round magazines, Philadelphia Policy Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross tells the media, “These are state-of-the-art weapons … My firearms experts over here tell me that…no body armor that we have would have saved our officers from these weapons here. I mean, in fact, many of them are capable of slicing through a vehicle. This is just how deadly these weapons are.”Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey describes the SKS rifle as “a very high-powered weapon capable of firing numerous rounds-very, very quickly and very, very deadly.”
May 2010-A survey by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) of 164 police departments serving 100,000 or more people finds that 37% have seen an increase in the use of assault weapons in street crime. 38% report seeing an increase in the use semiautomatic firearms that accept high-capacity ammunition magazines in street crime.
January 7, 2010-Disgruntled employee Timothy Hendron, 51, enters ABB Inc. in St. Louis, Missouri and opens fire on his co-workers. Armed with two handguns, a shotgun, and a semiautomatic AK-47 rifle with high-capacity ammunition magazines, Hendron fires approximately 115 rounds, killing three and wounding five before taking his own life. Patrol officers initially arriving at the scene are held back from entering the plant. St. Louis Police Chief Daniel Isom explains, “Our officers…didn’t have sufficient weapon systems to engage a person with an AK-47.” One of the first officers to arrive on the scene, Lt. Alana Hauck, later recalls, “I got home, and my 4-year-old daughter comes and gives me a hug … That’s when it hits you, this guy had a high-powered rifle. The worst could have happened, and I could’ve never got that hug.”
September 13, 2009-“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t scary” to face off against someone with an assault rifle, says Columbus [Ohio] Police Department Officer Chris Billman, 34, who was among those fired at during a 2004 incident [when Al Awwal Knowles, wanted in a double shooting, began firing an AK-47 from his Jeep while officers pursued him through Columbus’ North Side neighborhoods]. “Handguns are dangerous, but you have a different perspective when someone is firing rounds from an AK-47. Potentially, your vest won’t stop it and your car won’t stop it.”
July 30, 2009-After a shootout between gangs, Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis tells the Boston Globe, [A semiautomatic AK-47 rifle] can lay down a lot of fire in an urban area where there is basically no cover from it. You can conceal yourself from these weapons, but they ll rip through a car. They ll rip through a telephone pole. They can rip through just about anything in an urban environment. Everybody understands when they read the morning paper that you have to push as much as you can to get these guns off the street.”
July 13, 2009-After a birthday party shootout involving a semiautomatic AK-47 in which two young people were killed and 10 wounded, Miami Police Chief John Timoney tells ABC News, “For me it’s a no-brainer. These are weapons of war. Under no circumstance do they belong in the cities of America. Now police officers are facing-and citizens are facing-these assault weapons. If we don’t stop it now, what’s it going to look like 10 years from now? Rambo becomes reality.”
June 8, 2009-Criminal Christopher White ambushes Chesapeake, Virginia police officers from the back of a van with a semiautomatic AK-47, firing at least 30 rounds. Two rounds from the rifle go through Officer Sean Fleming’s Jeep before piercing his bullet-resistant vest, injuring him. “[Fleming] was still seated in the vehicle when he was assaulted,” Chesapeake Police Major T.D. Branch says. “Those type of weapons, depending on what kind of rounds, typically penetrate metal. They’re pretty powerful.”
May 11, 2009– The fact that we have these relatively cheap, assault weapon-type firearms out there, it’s not only a hazard to the public, but in particular to police officers, said Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York, who declared his support for renewing the federal Assault Weapons Ban. It’s proof that they continue to get into the hands of irresponsible people ¦ It’s a weapon of war, not of sport. I’m sure it will be a political battle, but the officers are out in the street fighting that battle every day.
May 4, 2009-Marion County sheriff’s deputies Roderic Marques and Matthew Nasworth chase criminal Victor Walker for approximately one mile after he flees during a traffic stop (Walker had commited a botched armed robbery at a Burger King earlier that day). Walker comes to a stop and opens fire on the deputies in their two vehicles with a semiautomatic AK-47 rifle. Bullets tear through the front of Nasworth’s vehicle and out the back, shredding everything they hit in between. Nasworth manages to get off only a single shot with his .45 caliber pistol and survives by pushing his torso under his steering wheel and behind the dashboard. Marques, who also cowered behind his dashboard, recalls, “I had two choices. I either back up or start engaging him. I remember it going through my head: ‘I’m overpowered. The firepower is too much.’”
March 21, 2009-An Oakland Police Department SWAT team follows violent criminal/rapist Lovelle Mixon into his sister’s bungalow apartment after Mixon shoots and kills two police officers following a routine traffic stop. Mixon lies prone in a back bedroom closet with a semiautomatic SKS assault rifle, firing through the door and walls of the closet at officers as they approach the room. He kills two more officers before being shot dead. An attorney representing officers involved in the incident, Harry Stern, describes their actions that day as “a remarkable display of heroism and gallantry in the face of unfathomable destruction.”
February 5, 2009-Major John Clark of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office tells WCSC-TV: “It really makes us worry a lot, particularly when you consider the number of rounds fired during this homicide the other night. We were going up there with handguns, with Glocks. This guy has an AK-47. If a police officer had come up in that area, he would have definitely been outgunned. These are killing machines. They are not designed for recreational use.” The sheriff’s office announces that some of its deputies have received permission to patrol carrying their own semiautomatic assault rifles.
December 29, 2008-In a press release, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund notes, 2007 was a wake-up call for law enforcement in our country, and law enforcement executives, officers, associations and trainers clearly heeded the call, with a renewed emphasis on officer safety training, equipment and procedures. The reduction in firearms-related deaths is especially stunning, given the tremendous firepower possessed by so many criminals today. The release states that one reason for the decline is “more officers wearing bullet-resistant vests over the past 20 years-vests have saved more than 3,000 law enforcement lives.”
August 27, 2008-Regarding the trend of North Carolina law enforcement recovering more military-style assault weapons at crime scenes, Franklin County Sheriff Pat Green tells WRAL-TV, “I’ve been in this business 25 years, and it’s just getting worse.”
June 1, 2008-Gunman David Delich (described as having “severe mental problems”) leads Tucson police officers on a crosstown car chase after firing more than 80 rounds from an assault rifle at several residential houses. During the chase, Delich kills officer Eric Hite with a shot to th head and wounds two Pima County sheriff’s deputies. When Delich surrenders and investigators search his car they find three assault rifles and two handguns. “He had dozens of magazines fully loaded and thousands of rounds,” says Rick Kastigar, the Pima County Sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Chief.
June 10, 2008-The Fort Lauderdale Police Department purchases 100 Colt AR-6520 rifles to provide officers adequate equipment to effectively resolve violent incidents.
May 17, 2008-Hundreds of officers with the Washington, D.C. Police Department are issued AR-15 rifles. The D.C. police department’s decision to arm patrol officers with semiautomatic rifles is promoted by commanders as a way to stay ahead of criminals. “We want to be prepared,” says D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier. “I want officers to have what they need to be safe.”
May 6, 2008-Thomas Krajewski, Sr., who held Sergeant Stephen Liczbinski of the Philadelphia Police Department in his arms after he was shot and mortally wounded by a semiautomatic SKS assault rifle, tells the Philadelphia Daily News, There is absolutely no reason that anyone should be carrying around military-style assault weapons. I mean, we saw what a weapon like that did to a human body. I mean, I own guns and my sons and I hunt as well, but I don t have assault rifles or anything. There s no need for it.
April 3, 2008-The Associated Press reports that since 1993, the year before the federal Assault Weapons Ban took effect, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has recorded a more than sevenfold increase in the tracing of 7.62x39mm guns (which includes semiautomatic AK-47s) from crime scenes. The number of AK-type guns traced rose from 1,140 in 1993 to 8,547 in 2007. From 2005 (the first full year after the ban’s expiration) through 2007, ATF recorded an 11% increase in such tracings. “We’re in an arms race,” says Chaska, Minnesota Police Chief Scott Knight, the Chairman of the Firearms Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
April 3, 2008-Days before the ambush of Miami police officer Jose Somohano, who is shot and killed with a semiautomatic AK-47 on September 13, 2007, Miami Police Chief John Timoney agrees to let patrol officers carry assault rifles to help counter the use of such weapons by criminals. John Rivera, president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, pleads for the same for officers in the Miami-Dade Department, which protects more than 1.4 million people around the city. “It’s almost like we have water pistols,” he says.
March 16, 2008– It doesn t matter what body armor you wear, says ATF Special Agent Tom Mangan about the ammunition fired by a semiautomatic AK-47 rifle. That round is going through the door, through the vest and right out the other side ¦ It s just like a hot knife through butter.
January 15, 2008-Miami Police Chief John Timoney tells the Miami Herald that semiautomatic assault weapons have become “the weapon of choice among gangs here.” They re everywhere, he says. At $100 or $200, everyone can afford one of these killing machines.
December 15, 2007-The Gainesville Police Chief announces that it will be considering arming all patrol officers with semiautomatic rifles such as the AR-15 or Mini-14. “When we get into a situation where the bad guys are carrying heavy weaponry, then we start to worry that we don’t have enough firepower,” says Gainesville Police Lt. Brian Helmerson, the commander of the agency’s Operational Skills Unit and Advanced Law Enforcement Rifle Team . “We would need something to at least equal or surpass their weapon capabilities. They have greater firepower than we do.”
November 8, 2007-Miami-Dade County police union chief John Rivera tells the Miami Herald that while he supports the right to bear arms, “I do not believe there’s a place in society for certain assault weapons. An AK-47 is one of them. It was blue-printed for war.'”
November 6, 2007-“It’s not nice we have to arm ourselves like the soldiers in Iraq,” says Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Laurie Pfeil, who carries a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle (the civilian verison of the military’s M-16 rifle) as part of her road patrol duties. “We are like soldiers. It is a war.”
April 9-11, 2007-The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) releases a report following its 2007 Great Lakes Summit on Gun Violence. The report makes the following recommendation: “Anecdotal evidence from law enforcement leaders around the country suggests that military-style assault weapons are increasingly being used against law enforcement and by drug dealers and gang members; unfortunately, current restrictions on the release of ATF trace data make it impossible to know how often these firearms are being used in crimes. Law enforcement officials, municipal officials and public health and safety officials should support and promote an effective ban on military-style assault weapons.”
Feburary 19, 2007-An informal survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police of 20 police departments across the country finds that since the expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004 all of them have either added assault weapons to officers’ patrol units or replaced existing weaponry with semiautomatic, military-style firearms.
February 2007-Analyzing accounts in the news media, the Violence Policy Center documents 64 incidents in which law enforcement officers were confronted by gunmen with semiautomatic assault weapons between March 1, 2005 and February 28, 2007. In 16 of these incidents law enforcement officers were shot; four times fatally.
August 24, 2006-San Francisco police tell ABC-7 that they are now seizing 100 guns from crime scenes every month, many of them semiautomatic assault weapons such as Mac-9s, Mac-10s, AK-47s, etc. San Francisco Police Deputy Chief Morris Tabak says that about five percent of the firearms seized are assault type weapons, adding, “These are what could be described only as anti-personnel weapons.” San Francisco Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes says, “Just about every crook you run into out there is a drug dealer or a gang banger’s got one of these weapons. And it’s putting our officers’ lives at risk.”
August 5, 2006-Dade County, Florida law enforcement reports seeing more assault weapons being used in crimes. Miami homicide detective Lt. John Buhrmaster explains the trend in the following terms: “Inflicting fear with power. That’s a big factor why those assault rifles are being used.” Citing the expiration of the federal Assault Weapons Ban, Miami Detective Delrish Moss says, “The fact that it is easier to obtain them legally is a problem because they end up in the hands of criminals.” “There was nothing positively gained by the lifting of the ban on assault weapons by the government,” adds Miami-Dade Police Director Robert Parker.
June 7, 2005-The Chicago Police Department reports a 10% increase in the number of assault weapons seized from crime scenes since the federal Assault Weapons Ban expired. Chicago Police Superintendent Phil Cline states, “These are guns that can shoot up to 30 rounds with a couple pulls of the trigger and it puts our police in grave danger out there. So we d like still to see some kind of ban, either by the state or federally.”
August 9, 2004-States United to Prevent Gun Violence gathers a list of over 1,900 police chiefs, sheriffs, and county prosecutors who support “renewing and strengthening” the federal Assault Weapons Ban. Some of the names on the list include Chief John Wilson of Montgomery, Alabama; Chief Randy Henderlite of the Glendale, Arizona Police Department; the Greenwood, Arkansas Police Department; Cam Sanchez, president of the California Police Chiefs Association; the Daytona Beach, Florida Police Department; the Cicero, Illinois Police Department; Baltimore City, Maryland Police Commissioner Kevin Clark; Colonel Tadarial Sturdivant of the Michigan State Police; the East Rutherford, New Jersey Police Department; the Nassau County, New York Police Department; the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Police Department; and San Antonio, Texas Police Department Chief Albert Ortiz.
June 2004-A study commissioned by the Department of Justice finds, “Attacks with semiautomatics-including assault weapons and other semiautomatics equipped with large capacity magazines-result in more shots fired, more persons hit, and more woundeds infliced per victim than do attacks with other firearms.” The study also reports, “Assault weapons account for a larger share of guns used in mass murders and murders of police, crimes for which weapons with greater firepower would seem particularly useful.”
April 27, 2004-Standing with other law enforcement leaders from across the country to demand renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton states, “There is a reason that these [assault] weapons are so appealing to criminals. They are designed to be easily concealed and kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Congress must act and act now to protect the American public and our police officers from these deadly weapons. This is about public safety and law enforcement.”
May 2003-The Violence Policy Center releases the “Officer Down” report, which finds that at least 41 of the 211 law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty between January 1, 1998, and December 31, 2001, were killed with assault weapons.
1994-In an analysis of assault weapons, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) writes, “Assault weapons were designed for rapid fire, close quarter shooting at human beings. That is why they were put together the way they were. You will not find these guys in a duck blind or at the Olympics. They are mass produced mayhem.” The ATF describes assault weapons as “large capacity, semiautomatic firearms designed and configured for rapid fire, combat use … Most are patterned after machine guns used by military forces.”