Policing and Militarization: Will Boston Adopt the AR-15?

While I didn’t always agree with Mayor Menino, his opposition to the widespread carrying of high-powered semi-automatic rifles by police (the AR-15, a semi-automatic version of the M-16) was laudable (boldface mine):

On April 15 — when two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260 — the plan to buy the rifles was already in the works. But the attack and its aftermath, including an extensive manhunt by heavily armed police, highlighted “a situation where we didn’t have a sufficient number of officers properly equipped,” Fong said…

Two years later [in 2009], Boston police ordered about 200 semiautomatic M16s from the U.S. military under a federal surplus program and planned to distribute them to neighborhood officers before Mayor Thomas Menino thwarted the plan, the Boston Globe reported at the time. But some 82 police departments elsewhere in Massachusetts, many facing little or no violent crime but fearing terrorist attacks, have obtained more than 1,000 such weapons.

…Menino, who will leave office at the end of year, has pressed for stricter gun legislation in Massachusetts. He was “well aware” that such rifles were common in other jurisdictions, and he “will continue to advocate for the limited use of these weapons for routine work,” Menino’s spokesman John Guilfoil said in an email to Al Jazeera.

“The mayor made clear that he doesn’t expect these types of weapons to be used regularly but rather stored securely in police vehicles and used only during necessary emergency situations,” Guilfoil added.

Even within the Boston Police Department, some officers favored an expansion of the current model of deploying tactical vehicles and trained specialists rather than arming ordinary patrol officers with semiautomatic rifles.

“All of a sudden the department seems to be rushing into this,” said Jack Kervin, president of the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation labor union. “It isn’t like this is Fallujah or we’re in a war zone.”

The Boston Marathon bombings represent a structural failure of the intelligence system, and had nothing to do with inadequate firepower. What it does do, however, is further militarize our police forces–something the BPSOF doesn’t want:

Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the move reflects a trend nationwide that includes the “paramilitarization of the police” and the federalization of local and state police departments…

Do we want police officers who are sent out into our streets to be trained as if — and equipped as if — the people they encounter on their patrols are enemy hostile targets, as if in a war?” she said. “Or do we want them to see people in our communities as allies and people they are meant to protect and serve?

On the street in Roxbury, Tariq Nazyat disputed the assertion that police were routinely confiscating assault rifles, saying most young people with guns in the neighborhood probably had 40-year-old Browning pistols.

“What do you need an AR-15 for?” he asked. “We’re in the middle of the city. If you open that gun up in the middle of the city, chances are somebody’s going to get hurt. I don’t really think you should be in that line of work if you even have that type of mentality.”

Hopefully, Mayor-Elect Walsh will continue with Menino’s policy.

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3 Responses to Policing and Militarization: Will Boston Adopt the AR-15?

  1. albanaeon says:

    How *exactly* would AR-15’s have helped in the marathon bombing anyway? Knock off assault rifles would have scared pressure cooker bombs into not going off? The bombers overwhelmed by the firepower of the police?

    Of course the same sort of thing applies to civilians getting the damn things. Even if you buy the “home defense” idea, a semi auto rifle is such overkill for likely scenarios, it actually causes more danger (bullets flying through walls like butter is not good for the family you are protecting).

    But heaven forbid we apply some logic and common sense to how we apply a Constitutional Amendment that also talks of militias and regulation…

  2. Newcastle says:

    I think that they were referring to the manhunt after the bombings but even then it doesn’t really make much sense. There are situations where a police officer might need higher power weaponry than a standard handgun or shotgun. That said I think an AR-15 is probably more gun than you would want in a major city. Also the tumbling nature of the round once it hits someone is great for increasing the workload on the medics of your enemy but I don’t see that as a law enforcement goal. There is justification for long guns in law enforcement but I’d rather see the police depending on accuracy and lower fire-rate rifle. There have been too many cases in recent years of “bad guys” being shot 10-30 times. That is panic on the part of the police and the weaponry issued should not support it.

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