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Rifles in housing projects disturb police
Jul 06, 2005 12:00 am
JULY 1, 2005
They normally surface rarely, but the discovery of two assault rifle-style weapons in two months has been called "very disturbing" by Lebanon police, who say they may seek federal help in fighting such firepower.
The two weapons – a semi-automatic clone of an AK-47 and an SKS – have been linked by authorities to two different public housing developments, where officials continued promising an increased police presence in response to a recent rash of violence.
One of the rifles was found in an automobile which sped away from the Inman Court housing complex, and the other was found inside a unit in Upton Heights less than two months ago.
"It really makes you stop and think when these types of weapons start showing up," Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen said.
Bowen and Public Safety Commissioner Billy Weeks said federal authorities may join in a concerted effort focusing on crime in public housing, which authorities have made no secret is in the planning stages.
Bowen said officers prefer to see cases involving powerful weapons such as assault rifles go into the federal court system, citing longer sentences for most offenders.
"When we can, that's the way we prefer to handle it," he said. "We're fortunate that we've always had good working relationships with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) and the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) on these kinds of things."
Weeks said local authorities "hope to do some joint efforts" when the anticipated crime crackdown begins in earnest, though he did not specify which agencies may be involved.
"We will be targeting felons, fugitives and weapons in public housing," he said.
Bowen said authorities are unsure why two of the rifles surfaced in such a short time, though he said the expiration of a federal ban on the importation of assault weapons could have played a role in the discoveries.
Most commonly linked to drug traffickers through countless films and television shows, Bowen said he feels it may be just those images that cause some to develop a "fascination" for the weapons.
"I don't know that it's always drug related here, sometimes I think it's sort of a fascination with them from people seeing them in the movies, to be honest with you," the police chief said.
Weeks said he didn't particularly care what the cause of the seeming increase may be.
"As far as I'm concerned one of them is too many," he said. "Once the trigger is pulled on one of those there's no telling where the bullets are going."
Bowen said the "penetration power" and efficiency of the rifles can give even the most hardened police officer pause.
"Even our vests won't stop most of the rounds," he said. "They have at least 30-round clips and they're capable of shooting thousands of rounds per minute. Plus they can go a long, long way with such power. They can go through walls, cars, nothing stops them."
Even those who may own an assault rifle with non-criminal intentions in mind can be a worry for police and others as well, Bowen said.
"One of the things that bothers me is our officers have to have hundreds of hours of training to be considered qualified to use these kinds of weapons, and even then only our SWAT team can use them," he said. "In the wrong hands they're dangerous, they're just too powerful."
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at email@example.com.