The other arms race

November 07, 2007

In Miami, assault rifles are becoming more popular among the criminal set, and the grim proof is in the increasing number of murder victims who have been killed with high-powered weapons in that city since a federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004. The trend has led Miami Police Chief John Timoney to allow some of his officers to carry assault rifles. That's what it's come to: police rearming to try to outgun the bad guys.

Congress, though, doesn't seem to care. It's so paralyzed on this issue that it hasn't yet closed the legal loophole that allowed the Virginia Tech killer to buy his guns. That's simply unconscionable.

Efforts to reinstate a ban on assault weapons have been repeatedly blocked by the gun lobby, despite support from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, mayors of a dozen big cities (including Baltimore) and families of crime victims. The IACP reissued its call for a ban in September, noting a 59 percent increase in the number of law enforcement officers shot and killed this year compared with 2006. Baltimore police have been spared such carnage, with only one officer killed so far this year.

The group attributed the spike in police deaths to an increase in violent crime, the availability of guns and the absence of an assault weapons ban. Its members are seeing more use of assault weapons in crimes, and examples cited by gun control advocates seem to support that: the high-powered rifles that can shoot multiple rounds and penetrate buildings more easily have figured in crimes in cities across the country. Baltimore criminals, though, still seem to favor handguns.

Assault weapons are so readily available in the U.S. that Mexican drug lords are smuggling them across the border, circumventing Mexico's tough gun laws and exacerbating the violence there, according to Mexican officials and agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It's so bad that federal agents in some border states have stepped up efforts to stop the illegal gun flow into Mexico.

The availability of assault weapons here contributes to America's image across the globe as an armed and dangerous society. It's too easy for assault weapons to end up in the wrong hands, and gun rights advocates should recognize that sad fact. Reimposing the ban would protect police and the public.

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