Regular readers will recall that the Violence Policy Center recently released a study entitled The Militarization of the U.S. Firearms Market. The VPC’s poison pen letter to the American gun industry was a profoundly flawed document aimed at distracting attention from the growing ATF Gunwalker scandal. That said, fair enough. The American firearms market is increasingly “militarized.” This year’s SHOT show devoted an entire floor to tacticool gizmos and gadgets—not to mention the enormous selection of military-spec pistols, rifles, shotguns, optics, ammo, clothing, etc. on offer elsewhere. And this is a problem because . . .
It isn’t. I’ve got no problem with civilians buying military-grade firearms or accessories. The chances of these sales “fostering” some kind of armed insurrection are A) small and B) smaller for living in a country where civilians own military-style firearms (thereby maintaining a balance of power, decreasing the desire for an armed insurrection).
The nutcase militia men practicing to fight against U.S. troops—a statistically insignificant fraction of a relatively small percentage of the total firearms market—are no more of a danger with mil-spec ARs than they would be with, say, a fertilizer bomb.
Once again, the gun grabbers have made a great landing at the wrong airport. They missed the militarization that need concern us: the dramatic proliferation of police SWAT teams and AR-toting cops.
Even before the attacks on the World Trade Center towers in 2001, American police forces were adding paramilitary units and related kit at a ferocious clip. In 1997, Eastern Kentucky University professor Peter Kraska estimated that 90 percent of cities with populations exceeding 50,000 with at least 100 sworn officers had at least one SWAT team.
Since 911 and the Bush administration’s acceleration of funding for “the war on drugs,” the trend has accelerated. In 2006, the Cato Institute’s study Overkill: The Risk of Paramilitary Raids in America chronicled the scope of the American police’s “weapons surge.”
Between just 1995 and 1997, the Pentagon distributed 3,800 M-16s, 2,185 M-14s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers to civilian police agencies across the country. In 1997 alone, the Pentagon handed overmore than 1.2 million pieces of military equipment to local police departments.
Child psychologist Jean Piaget called this one with his Sensorimotor/Adaptive Model of Intellectual Development. Simply put, if a child sucks everything in reach, everything within reach is there to be sucked. If the police have a trained SWAT team, they will use it.
Back in ’97, professor Kraska’s estimated that 75 to 80 percent of SWAT callouts were for warrant service. By 2001, American SWAT teams were conducting over 40,000 “raids” per year. In the intervening 10 years, SWAT teams have continued to rise in number, even as the standard for their deployment has lowered.
“Criminals” suspected of simple drug possession are now subject to “no knock” SWAT raids, where the first they learn of their imminent arrest is a “flash bang,” followed by a sudden, violent influx of a squad of rifle-toting troops.
The Rutherford Files quotes an Army vet who highlights the lack of controls typifying police SWAT teams.
Most American police SWAT teams probably have fewer restrictions on conducting forced entry raids than do US forces in Afghanistan. For our troops over here to conduct any kind of forced entry, day or night, they have to meet one of two conditions: have a bad guy (or guys) inside actively shooting at them; or obtain permission from a 2-star general, who must be convinced by available intelligence (evidence) that the person or persons they’re after is present at the location, and that it’s too dangerous to try less coercive methods.
On May 5, an Arizona SWAT team took out 26-year-old Tucson native and former Marine Jose Guerena, firing more 70 shots, causing more than 60 wounds. The police helmet video clearly shows a SWAT team member firing a pistol indiscriminately into Guerena’s house.
Nothing new there. Time and time again, civilians have been slaughtered in the inevitable chaos of a SWAT team’s “no knock” raid. While civil lawsuits occasionally punish the trigger-happy transgressors, the tax payer foots the bill and the offending SWAT team lives to swarm another day.
In fact, the police industry’s newfound enthusiasm for “gun violence task forces” guarantees yet another mission for “underutilized” SWAT teams; one where the paramilitary police are likely to be even less circumspect in the use of armed aggression.
The English justification for their burgeoning police state—if you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve got nothing to worry about—doesn’t apply. American politicians and unelected officials may not be deploying SWAT teams for unconstitutional purposes at the moment, but they could. History tell us where there’s potential for governmental abuse, abuse occurs.
Why take the risk of creating a fascist police state by driving down this road, paved as it is with good intentions? Do the crime-fighting advantages of a highly-trained paramilitary police outweigh the threat to our personal liberty? In a word, no.
The Cato report rightly called for an immediate separation between American civilian police and the U.S. military, in terms of equipment, training and tactics. That hasn’t happened. In fact, the militarization of the police has spread to “normal” officers.
Since the 1986 FBI Miami shootout, American law enforcement agencies assume the average police officer needs immediate access to bullet-resistant vests and massive firepower. Military-style AR rifles have become standard-issue weaponry for police cruisers across the length and breadth of the country.
There is no way to stuff the SWAT genie back in the bottle, or take ARs from cops at the sharp end. You can no more “demilitarize” the police than you can disarm American citizens. (Here’s hoping society doesn’t pit one against the other.) There’s only one way we can protect ourselves from the people who claim to protect us: defund them.
Paramilitary police are the logical result of gigantic anti-terrorist and law enforcement budgets. By cutting funding to the bone for both of these activities—on the local, state and federal level—we can starve SWAT-mania to death. Truth be told, paramilitary policing is an extremely expensive, non-essential “service” that we can’t afford, both as taxpayers and freedom-loving Americans.