Archive for Thursday, September 16, 2004

Law enforcement reactions vary on weapons ban expiration

September 16, 2004

Decades ago, nearly every law enforcement officer carried a six-shot revolver, or "wheel gun" as their service weapon. Today, you'd be hard pressed to find an officer carrying anything other than a semi-automatic while in the line of duty.

Law enforcement officers say there is a simple reason for the deviation from weapon to weapon: criminals are arming themselves with deadlier firearms, so police must do the same.

"It's changed the way we feel as police officers, the way we operate," Basehor police chief Terry Horner said. "With these weapons on the street, it's changed the way we equip ourselves.

"The bad part about it is that high-tech criminals are still one step ahead because they're using automatics and we're using semi-automatics."

Whether the recent expiration of a 10-year federal ban on assault weapons will lead police to re-arm again is unknown. On Monday, a ban signed in 1994 by then President Bill Clinton expired; the prohibition outlawed more than 15 types of military-style assault weapons. Congress has not reauthorized the bill as of yet.

Various studies don't indicate one way or another whether the ban was effective. Pro- and anti-gun groups also argue whether the ban was a helpful tool in deterring crime and keeping deadly weapons off the street, away from criminals and out of communities.

Local law enforcement officials had mixed reactions to the ban's expiration Monday.

Horner, like most high ranking law enforcement officials in the area, said he believes in America's right to bear arms, but that some weapons, like a TEC-9, a weapon that can now be legally purchased, have no place in home protection, hunting or recreational use.

"I believe in the freedom to own a hunting weapon and freedom for Americans to bear arms for their homes but use common sense as to what is used for recreation and hunting versus what isn't," he said.

Lt. George Collins of the Bonner Springs Police Department said none of the officers in his department carries a wheel gun anymore and that "it's always a bad idea when there are assault weapons out on the street."

Both Horner and Collins agreed that elected officials should consider renewing the assault weapons ban.

For some law enforcement agencies, publicly addressing the weapons ban was a dicey topic. Some departments said they had no comments or public stance on the issue.

"Wow, I don't know about that," said Kyle Smith, spokesman for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. "That's one of those issues. Right now, I'd say we have no official position.

Smith did say most police and sheriff's departments in the state are better arming themselves to combat the weapons criminals are acquiring.

"Almost all departments have gone to the semi-automatics because of the larger magazine," Smith said. "I'm not even sure you can be certified (on anything else)."

Officials from all local departments said automatic weapons have been recovered from their areas, most often during the execution of a search warrant.

A good majority of the time, the weapons are found in the possession of drug manufacturers, police said.

Corporate executives from Cabela's, a national chain of outdoor supply stores, did not respond to the Chieftain/Sentinel this week when asked whether a store inside the Village West district in Kansas City, Kan., would begin selling the assault weapons that are now legal to purchase.

The Cabela's in western Wyandotte County is one of the largest gun retailers in the metropolitan area.

However, according to a story published Tuesday in the Lawrence Journal-World, a Cabela's spokesperson said the store's decision to sell the weapons would be decided by customer demand.

"We'll take a look at the situation and determine if customer demand is there," said company spokesperson Joe Arterburn. "We'll continue to promote the safe use of firearms no matter how they're designed."

Mike Taylor, a spokesman for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, said there is no local law in place that would prevent the store from selling assault weapons.

The county also does not have an official position on the matter, Taylor said.

"There may be as many differing opinions on that as there are individuals," Taylor said.

Although the county is taking no particular stance on the possibility of Cabela's selling weapons that have been banned for the past 10 years, Taylor said the county has been an opponent of legislation in the past that "would have put more guns in our community," Taylor said.

During the 2004 legislative session, county officials lobbied against a proposed law that would have allowed residents to conceal and carry handguns, Taylor said.

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