PoliceIssues | Crime and Justice

Like the Demís, the GOP addresses gun lethality with make-believe
(#307, 3/17/18)

      It was January 17, 1989. President Ronald Reagan and Vice-President George H.W. Bush had three days left in office when Patrick Purdy, a deeply disturbed ex-con, used a store-bought AK-47 type rifle to kill five children and wound twenty-nine others and a teacher at a Stockton (Calif.) elementary school.

     Bush then took over (those old enough to appreciate such things might remember his eminently forgettable V.P., Dan Quayle) Five-plus years later, on September 13, 1994 Bill Clinton signed the law commonly referred to as the Assault Weapons Act into effect. As a Yale Law School grad, the prez must have known that the measure, which was prompted by a series of shootings including the Stockton massacre, had been craftily worded to create the least possible impediment to the firearms industry. Indeed, the so-called “ban” was so easy to circumvent that when it expired ten years later the rabidly anti-gun Violence Policy Center shrugged:

…immediately after the 1994 law was enacted, the gun industry evaded it by making slight, cosmetic design changes to banned weapons—including those banned by name in the law – and continued to manufacture and sell these ‘post-ban’ or ‘copycat’ guns.

     How toothless was the Federal law? On April 20, 1999, about half-way through its ten-year run, two teens staged a massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing twelve fellow students and a teacher and wounding twenty-one others. One of their guns, a Hi-Point 9mm. semi-automatic carbine (it was reportedly used to discharge nearly 100 rounds) came from a friend who got it from an unlicensed seller at a gun show. Hi-Point purposely designed and manufactured this rifle to avoid the prohibitions in the Federal assault weapons law, and it remains in production in assorted calibers and configurations (including “California Compliant”) through the present day.

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Outlawing them is a good idea. But itís hardly the solution.

      On October 1 a middle-aged man with no criminal record became the most prolific mass killer in American history, slaughtering 58 persons and wounding 489 as they enjoyed an outdoor concert on the Las Vegas strip. As a stunned land reels from the carnage, one thing seems certain: the willingness of “ordinary” citizens to put guns to unimaginably evil use has made a mockery of the meager legal constraints that America has imposed on the right to bear arms.

     To be sure, minors, convicted felons and adjudicated mental defectives – the “who” – are prohibited from acquiring guns. But Stephen Paddock didn’t fit into any of these categories. He and his evil counterpart James T. Hodgkinson, who wounded four members of Congress in June, were by all appearances law-abiding citizens who acquired their guns legally, in Paddock’s case through repeat purchases at local gun stores.

     And “what” they legally got is appalling. Lying in ambush at a Virginia baseball field, Hodgkinson unleashed repeated salvos from a 7.62 mm semi-automatic rifle, a derivative of the lethally efficient AK-47. Paddock stocked his 32nd. floor Las Vegas hotel room with nearly two dozen assault-style rifles, apparently all in the 5.56 mm caliber made wildly popular by the Colt AR-15.

     Why did their guns prove so lethal? It’s largely a matter of ballistics. Projectiles fired by civilian versions of the AK-47 and AR-15 travel twice as fast and carry three times the energy of even the more powerful pistol cartridges. When these bullets pierce flesh they create large, undulating cavities many times their diameter, pulverizing organs, shattering nearby bones and rupturing nearby blood vessels. According to the FBI, 454 law enforcement officers were feloniously shot and killed during 2006-2015. Of the nineteen killed by rounds that penetrated their ballistic vests, eighteen fell to rifle fire, with the 7.62 and 5.56 mm. calibers figuring prominently.

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Prior posts

Routinely Chaotic Rule #1: Donít let chaos distort the police response. Rule #2: See Rule #1. (#306, 3/6/18)

Ban the Damned Things! Thereís no ďregulatingĒ the threat posed by highly lethal firearms (#305, 2/21/18)

Why do Cops Lie? Often, for the same reasons as their superiors (#304, 2/10/18)

Be Careful What You Brag About (Part II) Citywide crime statistics are ripe for misuse (#303, 1/25/18)

Be Careful What You Brag About (Part I) Is the Big Apple's extended crime drop all it seems to be? (#302, 1/15/18)

Accidentally on Purpose A remarkable registry challenges conventional wisdom about the causes of wrongful conviction (#301, 12/24/17)

Massacre Control What can be done to prevent mass shootings? (#300, 11/19/17)

"Bump Stocks" Aren't the (Real) Problem Outlawing them is a good idea. But itís hardly the solution. (#299, 10/8/17)

Sanctuary Cities, Sanctuary States (Part II) Should states legalize recreational pot? (#298, 9/5/17)

Sanctuary Cities, Sanctuary States (Part I) What happens when communities turn their backs on immigration enforcement? (#297, 8/23/17)

Three (In?)explicable Shootings Grievous police blunders keep costing citizen lives. Why? (#296, 8/1/17)

Silence Isn't Always Golden A proposal to deregulate firearms silencers ignores the hazards of policing (#295, 7/14/17)

A Lost Cause Legislators are ambushed. And a gun-numbed land shrugs and moves on. (#294, 6/24/17)

Are Civilians Too Easy on the Police? When attempts are made to sanction cops, citizens often get in the way (#293, 6/3/17)

Ideology Trumps Reason Clashing belief systems challenge criminal justice policymaking (#292, 5/16/17)

People do Forensics Conflicts about oversight neglect a fundamental issue (#291, 4/30/17)

Why Do Cops Succeed? Shifting resources from finding fault to studying success (#290, 4/13/17)

Guilty Until Proven Innocent Pressures to solve notorious crimes can lead to tragic miscarriages of justice (#289, 3/19/17)

Is Crime Up or Down? Well, it Depends It depends on where one sits, when we compare, and on who counts (#288, 2/27/17)

An Illusory Consensus (Part II) Good intentions don't always translate into good policy (#287, 2/10/17)

An Illusory Consensus America's police leaders agree on the use of force. Or do they? (#286, 1/29/17)

Do Gun Laws Work? Are they doing any good? We crunch the numbers to find out (#285, 1/11/17)

Is Trump Right About the Nation's Inner Cities? America's low-income communities desperately need a New Deal (#284, 12/17/16)

A Stitch in Time Could early intervention save officer and citizen lives? (#283, 11/26/16)

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished To avoid anointing Trump, the FBI Director falls into a trap of his own making (#282, 11/2/16)

A Matter of Life and Death In an era of highly lethal firearms, keeping patrol informed is job #1 (#281, 10/20/16)

Is it Always About Race? Unruly citizens and streets brimming with guns make risk-tolerance a very hard sell (#280, 10/5/16)

Words Matter In a conflicted, gun-saturated land, heated rhetoric threatens copsí effectiveness - and their lives (#279, 9/17/16)

Where Should Cops Live? Officer-citizen conflicts stir renewed interest in residency requirements (#278, 9/2/16)

Getting Out of Dodge For families caught in dangerous neighborhoods, there is one option (#277, 8/19/16)

Better Late Than Never (Part II) DOJ proposes rules for forensic testimony. Do they go far enough? (#276, 8/3/16)

Good Guy/Bad Guy/Black Guy (Part II) Aggressive crime-fighting strategies can exact an unintended toll (#275, 7/18/16)

Good Guy/Bad Guy/Black Guy (Part I) Do cops use race to decide who poses a threat? (#274, 7/18/16)

Intended or not, a Very Rough Ride A hung jury and two acquittals mar Baltimore's crusade against police violence (#273, 7/3/16)

A Ban in Name Only Pretending to regulate only makes things worse (#272, 6/21/16)

Better Late Than Never (Part I) A "hair-raising" forensic debacle forces DOJ's hand (#271, 6/10/16)

Location, Location, Location Crime happens. To find out why, look to where (#270, 5/25/16)

Orange is the New Brown L.A.'s past sheriff and undersheriff pack their bags for Hotel Fed. (#269, 5/7/16)

Role Reversal Chicago's falling apart. Who can make the violence stop? (#268, 4/25/16)

Is a Case Ever too Cold? Citing factual errors, an Illinois prosecutor successfully moves to free a convicted killer (#267, 4/16/16)

After the Fact Ordinary policing strategies can't prevent terrorism (#266, 3/31/16)

More Rules, Less Force? PERF promotes written guidelines to reduce the use of force. Cops aren't happy (#265, 3/18/16)

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