Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Or, indeed, bureaucracy. Case in point: the stymied post-Ferguson move to ditch MRAPs, “tanks,” full-auto rifles and other Pentagon provided kit. First, the good news [via motherjones.com]: “Law enforcement agencies across the country have quietly returned more than 6,000 unwanted or unusable items to the Pentagon in the last 10 years, according to Defense Department data provided to Mother Jones by a spokeswoman for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has spearheaded a Senate investigation of the Pentagon program that is arming local police.” What was a trickle is becoming a rush. And no wonder. While the ex-mil toys cost pennies, the upkeep is not insignificant – especially for small town cop shops. Now the bad news . . .
Some agencies have found the process of getting rid of unwanted military gear next to impossible. Agencies can’t return or trade equipment without Defense Department approval, and because the Pentagon technically still owns the equipment, they can’t sell it.
According to interviews with state officials running point between the Pentagon and police, the Defense Department prefers to leave equipment in circulation whenever possible. “It’s a low-cost storage method for them,” says Robb Davis, the mayor pro tem of Davis. His town is trying to shake its MRAP. “They’re dumping these vehicles on us and saying, ‘Hey, these are still ours, but you have to maintain them for us.'”
A more malevolent read of the “no returns” policy: the feds are leaving “loaned” equipment in the hinterland so they can access the mil-spec stuff to quell civil insurrection. But again, it sounds more like your basic government SNAFU.
A Defense Logistics Agency spokeswoman says that law enforcement agencies are free to return equipment as long as they complete the right paperwork. She adds that certain pieces of equipment, such as night vision goggles, require extra certification to return. As examples of what might cause the Defense Department to reject a return, she lists only two: incorrect paperwork, and lack of that extra certification.
In reality, however, police departments may find the returns process slow, mystifying, or nonfunctional. Online law enforcement message boards brim with complaints that the Pentagon refuses to take back unwanted guns and vehicles—like this one, about a pair of M14 rifles that have survived attempts by two sheriffs to get rid of them.
“The federal government is just not interested in getting this stuff back,” says Davis Trimmer, a lieutenant with the Hillsborough, North Carolina, police department.Trimmer has twice requested permission to return three M14 rifles that are too heavy for practical use. But the North Carolina point person for the Pentagon insists that Hillsborough can’t get rid of the firearms until another police department volunteers to take them. Police in Woodfin, North Carolina, are facing the same problem as they try to return the town’s grenade launcher.
TTAG tipster Tom S. reckons a fire sale is the answer. Anyone fancy a slightly used grenade launcher or an M4?
More likely the Pentagon will figure out a way to take receipt of the unwanted full-auto rifles, MRAPs and other ex-mil gear, and park it all in a gigantic warehouse in Roswell, New Mexico (a few aisles over from the Ark of the Covenant). Leaving the central question unanswered: who’s going to disarm the USDA? I really fancy a sub-machine gun, even if it is .40-caliber. But please don’t ascribe that desire to malice – if you know what I mean.