Increasing Assault Weapons in Criminal Hands

U.S. police upgrade arsenals to meet challenge of assault weapons on streets.


Nov. 27, 2007 — -- The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Department is building up an arsenal of bigger weapons. Handguns and shotguns are no longer enough, and officers are being equipped with semiautomatic assault rifles instead.

Cpl. Paul Rubino of the sheriff's department had a matter-of-fact explanation for the upgrade, "All I know is that we should have the same firepower as the bad guys."

Watch Jeffrey Kofman's full report tonight on "World News With Charles Gibson" at 6:30 ET. This is part two of the two-part series "Officer Down."

His explanation is justified by multiple incidents. In September, a suspect wielding an AK-47 fired on Miami-Dade County police officers, killing one and injuring three. This month, a West Palm Beach gang member fired an AK-47, killing an 8-month-old baby.

Police departments from Danbury, Conn., to Dallas to Portland report that they are encountering more assault weapons and are arming their officers accordingly.

This surge of deaths stemming from semiautomatic assault weapons seems unnecessary. In 1994, President Clinton signed a law banning the sale of these weapons. But in 2004, President Bush and Congress allowed that ban to expire. Since then, Congress has made it illegal to keep nationwide statistics data on crimes committed with assault weapons.

But the city of Miami has its own data, which shows that last year, the police department seized 10 assault rifles. So far this year, it has seized 50.

Miami police Chief John Timoney said, "There's a need for Congress to step in here and pass some reasonable legislation that reduces the availability of these weapons in the hands of people who shouldn't have them."

Until that happens, the arms race between the criminals and the police will continue.

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