The Arms Race and the Road to Ferguson

Peter Mancuso, at Ten Miles Square, takes issue with the conventional wisdom about “militarization” of police departments. Not that it isn’t taking place–clearly it is–but he argues convincingly that the reasons go far beyond the notion that local police units are simply a convenient receptacle for the federal government’s no-longer-needed weaponry.

He lays the blame on the gun lobby and NRA.

By the early 1980s, there was a growing perception among law enforcement officers and portions of the public that America’s police were being out-gunned in encounters with criminals…. [R]outine arrests for illegal gun possessions were increasingly turning up weapons more powerful than those carried by the officers making those arrests. As law enforcement officers, their families, and police unions began naturally voicing their concerns, the call became louder to increase police officers’ “firepower” (a military term). It was argued strenuously then that this would require replacing the highly reliable revolver, which had been carried by most departments for over a half-century, with a rapid fire, more powerful, semi-automatic side arm.

Of course, this call to increase police officer fire power was further exacerbated by the fact that state legislatures failed miserably in the face of the gun lobby to curb the sale of some of the most powerful and lethal firearms that posed threats to police officers across the country in the first place. As this dichotomy, of the availability of more powerful weapons in the face of police officer safety took hold weapons manufacturers finally broke through and hit real pay dirt. The true irony in all of this is that the huge fortunes realized by their marketing more powerful weapons to American law enforcement, was actually the result of them having already made a fortune selling these more powerful weapons, easily acquired by criminals, to the public to begin with.

You can chalk up the demise of Officer Friendly to your local gun nut. People aren’t the only things being killed by out-of-control guns–sanity and moderation are also victims.


  1. If there is any credibility in this article, I find a very odd inconsistency in the fact that the stores that were guarded by “gun nuts” weren’t getting looted like the other stores, as the police looked on.

  2. I read somewhere long ago, “If you know the question, you have the answer.” That is certainly true in this instance: what to do about police being out-gunned – provide enough gun control to lessen chances of military-style weapons getting into hands of criminals – the answer is NOT to militarize police forces. Of course; the lack of well-trained police is another part of today’s problems. My Uncle Don (yes, that Don) fought hard for control on long guns but gave it up when Indiana cut back on full background checks for hand guns. The current problems in other cities regarding police problems – and they are police problems when unarmed possible law-breakers lay dead in streets or on sidewalks – by officers who should have been trained to deal with these circumstances. We could be taxed out the you-know-what to put more police on Indianapolis streets but if they aren’t trained to deal with problems; they certainly should not be put into armored vehicles and given military strength weapons to move a jaywalker out of the street. The few who abuse their police powers cause a problem with trusting all police to protect us; and the majority of police are the “good guys”. Our tax dollars will never equal the NRA, Koch brothers or Tea Party deep pockets. The question of what to do about it provides it’s own answer – VOTE OUT THE BOUGHT AND PAID FOR POLITICIANS WHO ALLOW POLICE ABUSE OF POWER AND ENCOURAGE THE MILITARIZATION OF LOCAL POLICE FORCES.

  3. I have been arguing for years that the police have had to assume that every individual they encounter is armed, and so they have (naturally) become hyper- sensitive to even the suggestion of a threat. No amount of training will overcome that fear. We have to end this glorification of the gun!

  4. The NRA exists for one reason only. It is the marketing arm of the gun industry. They are a prime example of the effectiveness of modern brand marketing in creating culture. Love them or hate them nobody can deny their success at getting more guns and ammo out of the factories and into the streets.

    Economists say that all of the societal consequences of that success are externalities.

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