Police Shooting Allows Group to Demonize 'Assault Weapons'

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The troubled teenager who shot and killed a Fairfax County, Va., police officer on Monday had access to a "military style assault weapon" -- and a gun control group says "the nature of that weapon changed the dynamic" of the deadly shooting.

Michael Kennedy, 18, opened fire on officers in the parking lot of a police station in Centreville, Va. He killed one detective and critically injured a second officer. A third suffered relatively minor injuries. Kennedy himself was shot and killed in the exchange of gunfire.

Police have said that Kennedy was carrying five pistols, an "AK-47-style rifle and a long-barreled, high-powered hunting rifle."

Press reports said the guns were legally owned by Kennedy's father. "The weapons were scattered throughout the house," the Washington Times reported, but sources told the newspaper that investigators don't know if that's the way the guns were normally stored.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence zeroed in on one of the guns the shooter apparently used.

"Some day -- unfortunately not soon -- our society will do something to prevent people who act like a loaded gun from having access to a loaded gun" said James Brady, the former White House press secretary who was paralyzed in the assassination attempt on President Reagan 25 years ago.

"And then the mother of young children, like Detective Vicky Armel, will be more likely to get home to her children at night," Brady added, referring to the detective killed in the attack.

Michael Barnes, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said his group is "sickened" by Monday's police shooting, which he called "unnecessary."

Barnes noted that that "scores of police chiefs" came to Washington a year and a half ago, demanding a renewal of the "assault weapons" ban, but at the time, "the gun lobby said the weapons are no different than any others."

The gun lobby -- the National Rifle Association -- long has resisted efforts to ban particular types of guns, believing that a ban on one type of weapon will lead to bans on others -- a slow-but-steady chipping away of the Second Amendment right to "keep and bear arms."

The National Rifle Association notes that semi-automatic rifles are used by millions of Americans for hunting, self-defense, recreational target shooting and in marksmanship competitions such as the Olympics.

Semi-autos fire once each time the trigger is pulled, and they use the same ammunition as other types of guns.

But gun control groups have long demonized semi-automatic weapons with "military features."

"Seventy shots -- this man fired seventy shots at the police before he could be stopped," said Paul Helmke, the former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind., who will take over as president of the Brady Campaign on July 4th. "Somehow he (Michael Kennedy) was able to get the guns and the ammunition to shoot that many times at the police officers we ask to protect us. It's incredible, and it's unreasonable."

According to the Washington Post, "Investigators think Kennedy fired more than 70 rounds from his two rifles and possibly from one of the five handguns."

Congress, with a push from then-President Clinton, banned the domestic production and sale of 19 semi-automatic weapons and copies of those weapons in 1994. But Congress allowed the ban to expire in September 2004 -- "to please the National Rifle Association just before the 2004 elections," the Brady Campaign said.

According to the Brady Campaign, "Since the ban expired, there have been at least 44 fatalities involving assault weapons and more than 38 wounded."

The Brady Campaign also says some police departments are reporting an increase in the number of assault weapons seized, but it's not clear if that has anything to do with the expiration of the "assault weapons ban."

The National Rifle Association, which has not commented on the Fairfax County police shooting, previously pointed to studies showing that "assault weapons" are used only in about 1 to 2 percent of violent crimes.

While the National Rifle Association deplores the criminal misuse of guns, it also deplores efforts to punish law-abiding Americans for criminals' behavior.

As the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action put it, "Banning guns because criminals use them is telling the law-abiding that their rights and liberties depend not on their own conduct but on the behavior of the lawless. It tells honest citizens that they have only such rights and liberties as criminals will allow," the NRA-ILA says on its website.

Early warnings ignored?

Press reports note that the gunman who opened fire on Fairfax County police had a history of erratic behavior and mental illness.

According to the Washington Post, police went to Kennedy's home in February "to investigate the nonfatal shooting of the family's dog." Kennedy reportedly told police he was holding a gun, thinking about killing himself, when the gun fired and hit the dog.

According to the Washington Post report, "Police asked to see the family's gun collection but were refused." Kennedy was charged with a misdemeanor, reckless use of a firearm, the next day." Police did not seize any guns from the home, sources told the newspaper.

The Brady Campaign said on Wednesday, in cases where individuals are struggling with mental illness, "it is important for family and friends to be vigilant about limiting access to firearms."

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