Assault weapons are leaving a bloody trail of violence in South Florida, the Miami Herald reports. Of the 69 police officers killed with firearms in the U.S. last year, only one was shot with an assault weapon, says the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. So far this year, the nation has seen only one assault-weapon police fatality. Both were in South Florida. The police slayings reflect a larger trend that has taken shape over the past four years, said Miami Police Chief John Timoney. In Miami, assault weapons were used in about 4 percent of homicides in 2004; last year, the figure was 21 percent. The chief, who called the powerful guns ”the weapon of choice among gangs here,” said the surge seems confined to a few sections of the country: South Florida, Atlanta and areas along the Texas-Mexico border.
”It’s an embarrassment, frankly,” Timoney said. “The guns keep coming in, their prices are dropping, and they’ve become ubiquitous.” A major way that assault weapons get into the wrong hands is through straw purchases, in which someone buys a gun legally and sells it to someone who shouldn’t have it, like ex-convicts or minors. In Florida, felony convictions, some domestic violence convictions and mental-health conditions prohibit gun ownership. Gun-store owners like Walter Philbrick say they try to be vigilant in preventing straw purchases. ”The most common is like two guys come in, and one guy holds all the guns, asks all the questions, then he tells his friend” — Philbrick whispers — “ `I want that gun.’ ‘We say, `Sorry, can’t do it. This is a straw purchase. Please leave my gun shop.’ ”