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Fun’s Over: Obama to Ban Big Iron to Cops

by Robert W. Hunnicutt   |  May 18th, 2015 29

police_militarization_FThe Obama Administration announced today that the federal government will no longer transfer certain military equipment to local police forces.

The Washintgon Post reported:

“The banned items are tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, ammunition of .50-caliber or higher and some types of camouflage uniforms, according to a report released by a White House working group that made the recommendations. Other equipment, including tactical vehicles, explosives and riot equipment, will be transferred only if local police provide additional certification and assurances that the gear will be used responsibly, according to the report.”

The Defense Department excess property program known by the number 1033 has transferred more than $4.3 billion in equipment since its inception in 1997. Local law enforcement agencies received nearly $500 million worth in 2013 alone.

The program got started after the infamous North Hollywood shootout on February 28, 1997. Los Angeles police were unable to deal with a pair of bank robbers wearing body armor and armed with AK-47s, and were reduced to commandeering rifles from nearby gun stores. Thousands of M16A1s were transferred to local police in the years that followed, and the program expanded to include a wide variety of other ex-military equipment, up to and including MRAP armored vehicles.


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Most of us know the gun nut on the local police force, and a lot of this is probably perfectly harmless scrounging, but the appearance of huge armored vehicles during the Ferguson, Mo. riots led to lots of talk about the “militarization” of U.S. police forces. People in the gun industry will tell you that was happening well before 1997, as local forces stocked up on sniper rifles, full-auto weaponry, night vision, etc., with the proceeds from asset forfeiture. Even very small agencies have acquired impressive supplies of very expensive firearms and equipment.

Banning .50 cal. rifles, tracked vehicles, grenade launchers and bayonets (!) from transfer to local cops is a lot of window-dressing by the administration. It addresses some very visible manifestations of federal-local cooperation, while leaving untouched the training and information-sharing aspects that are probably a lot more threatening to civil liberties in the long run.

A bunch of M4-toting cops riding around in an MRAP is a visible symbol of potential tyranny, but a cop quietly listening in on your phone from a laptop is the far more ominous threat.

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