South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Officials seeing more assault rifles used in South Florida crimes
By Robert Nolin
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
September 16, 2007
An extraordinarily violent day in South Florida — which began with the shooting of four police officers south of Miami and ended with the death of the gunman in Pembroke Pines — brought home a disturbing fact of life: More offenders are taking to the streets with high-powered assault weapons.
"You can buy an assault rifle for about $200
," said Carlos Baixauli, a special agent with the Miami district office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "That gives you a lot of firepower with the flick of a finger."
Police say Shawn Labeet used an assault weapon (remember this part)
to gun down Miami-Dade Officer Jose Somohano, 37, Thursday morning during a vehicle stop in south Miami-Dade County. Labeet also shot Jody Wright, 31, who suffered a serious leg wound, and Christopher Carlin, 34, and Tomas Tundidor, 37, who were nicked.
"I would say they were pretty much outgunned," Miami-Dade spokeswoman Cmdr. Linda O'Brien said. "This guy used a military-grade, or assault, weapon (not true at all)
Police would not specify which type of gun Labeet used, nor would they categorize the six assault weapons and three pistols they said he had purchased under the name of a Jacksonville man whose identity he had assumed. Officers shot and killed Labeet on Thursday night at a Pembroke Pines condo after he refused to drop a 9 mm pistol, police said.
O'Brien said officers are encountering assault weapons more often in recent years. "We're seeing those cases more and more frequently ... shooting not only police but innocent people as well," she said, citing a Miami shooting three years ago in which an officer survived a wound from an assault weapon.
In 2005, Miami-Dade police reported two killings involving an assault rifle; last year there were 10. The Miami Police Department said 15 of its 79 homicides last year involved assault weapons, up from the year before. This year so far, 12 of 60 killings have involved the high-power guns.
Meant for war, assault rifles such as the notorious AK-47, the favorite of guerrilla fighters around the world, can spit a lethal spray of up to 600 rounds a minute when in full automatic mode. (while technically correct, this statement has absolutely no bearing on the weapons used in the incident in FL!)
Their potent punch leaves officers equipped with traditional handguns at a disadvantage. (Never mind that officers are often equipped with true assault weapons now)
"It's almost like we have water pistols going up against these high-powered rifles," said John Rivera, president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association.
"More and more of these assault rifles are being used in crimes," said Jeffrey Gorley, of the Regional Community Collaboration on Violence, a gun control organization. "Criminals thrive on power and want to have that authority, so they have these assault rifles."
Figures on how many assault weapons are on the nations' streets vary or are not current. In 1989, the Institute for Research on Small Arms in International Security reported there were 4 million assault rifles in the United States, making up just under 2 percent of all guns in the country.
One study said between 1992 and 1996, assault weapons accounted for 10 percent of all police murders involving firearms. Conventional weapons, it should be pointed out, can be just as deadly: the U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics reported that of the 687 officers killed by firearms from 1982 through 1993, more were felled by .38-caliber revolvers than any other type of gun.
Federal law makes it illegal to possess a fully automatic weapon without a special license (and the NFA is still very much in effect)
. In 1994, Congress banned even single-fire guns that bore the characteristics of assault weapons: collapsible stock, bayonet mount, pistol grip or threaded muzzle. The 10-year ban expired in September 2004; Congress did not reinstate it.
Many police organizations and departments support a revival of the ban. "That would be something for legislators to look at, something to be explored," O'Brien said.
Friday, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz called on fellow mayors at a conference in Trenton, N.J., to urge Congress to revisit the assault weapon ban.
"Since the expiration of the ban, we have seen an upward spike in the number of assault weapons," (of course you have, they were legal again!)
Diaz said. "These high-powered weapons designed for war have no business in our streets and certainly no business in the hands of criminals."
Broward County Commissioner John Rodstrom also would like to see the ban resurrected. Assault weapons, he said, belong on a battlefield, not city streets. And it's unsportsmanlike to use one in hunting, he said.
"I don't see any reason why we should allow assault weapons except in the military," (hm, I wonder if that includes law enforcement agencies....)
Rodstrom said. "Our law enforcement people should not have to come up against one of them."
But even Gorley, the gun control advocate, conceded a ban would only go so far in reducing firepower in the street.
"We have to change the laws," he said, "but changing the law is not going to stop a criminal." (Finally!! A gleam of truth! Remind me again why we need new laws if criminals will just continue ignoring them?)
Staff Writer Ruth Morris and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Robert Nolin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4525. (This man deserves a friendly educational email)