The International Association of Chiefs of Police cites an increasing number of “assault weapons” on the street, particularly since the 2004 expiration of a ban on civilian possession of certain semi-automatic weapons deemed to be “assault weapons”.
However, statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies cast doubt onto this reasoning: of the firearms used to commit crimes, the vast majority are not so-called “assault weapons.” This was the case even before the ban on assault weapons came into force in 1994, and indeed this was the view then of many law enforcement agencies — in 1990, for example, a group of 100,000 police officers presented Congress with a message stating that just 2-3% of crimes were committed using “assault weapons.” A California Department of Justice report echoed these statistics, concluding that assault weapons comprised just 3.7% of the guns used in crimes.
Paul Erhardt is spokesman for firearms manufacturer Sigarms, who supply 40% of police firearms throughout the U.S. He sees the situation rather differently to the IACP; he thinks that police forces increased and continue to increase their firepower as a visceral reaction to events such as September 11th, and that rational concerns about the expiring assault weapons ban were far from the main cause.
Regardless of the reasoning, the result is that police forces are rapidly arming themselves, often with military surplus hardware — a shocking development that has previously been reported on this site and by other agencies.
Has this vast increase in police firepower served society? Are we safer as a result? The answer, it would seem, is a resounding no. There has been a vast increase in paramilitary raids on the part of police forces — now at 40,000 a year — completely out of proportion with dropping crime rates. Innocent Americans are being targeted and sadly hurt or even killed in botched raids, and all too often police officers themselves are hurt when confused homeowners return fire — particularly likely in cases when SWAT teams operate “no-knock” entrances under cover of darkness.
The trend, then, is of a society made more dangerous for innocent civilians as a result of an increase in police firepower, and sadly it seems inevitable that this trend will continue.