High-powered assault weapons are fast becoming the gun of choice for gang members and violent criminals, reports the Associated Press. When the guns, once found solely in the hands of soldiers, are aimed at officers on patrol, there’s little authorities can do to escape. “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. “Our weaponry and our bulletproof vests don’t match up to any of those types of weapons.” In Miami, there are signs it is becoming a major problem.
In 2005, the Miami-Dade Police Department reported two homicides involving an assault rifle; last year there were 10. Miami said 15 of its 79 homicides last year involved assault weapons, up from the year before. This year, 12 of the 60 homicides have involved the high-power guns. The rising number of deaths by assault weapons reflects growing availability of the weapons and their elevation to a status symbol among gang members, said agent Carlos Baixauli of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “In the early ’80s to ’90s, it was more common to have a handgun in your waistband and the bigger the caliber, the more powerful you were,” he said. “Now it’s escalated to the assault weapons.” Since the 2004 expiration of the federal assault weapons ban 10 years after its passage, the guns are readily available on streets or can be ordered by mail for under $200.