Probably no one who attended or watched last Friday's funeral service for the four slain Oakland Police officers spent much time reflecting on the fact that two of these brave public servants died at the hands of a career criminal wielding a Russian-designed AK-47 assault rifle.
That's wholly understandable and appropriate. Friday's service, touching and poignant as it was, was rightly focused on the lives of these four fine men -- Officer John Hege, Sgt. Mark Dunakin, Sgt. Ervin Romans and Sgt. Daniel Sakai.
But as our collective tears begin to dry, the public policy implications behind this deadly encounter must begin to take center stage. The fact that when parolee Lovelle Mixon barricaded himself into an apartment bedroom not far from the street where he executed two motorcycle officers on the afternoon of March 21, he packed with him one of the most powerful military rifles yet invented.
So when SWAT officers Romans and Sakai charged the bedroom, Mixon opened up and mowed them down.
The question that must be asked -- again -- is how many more police officers and innocent civilians must die at the hands of criminals bearing these weapons?
In April 2004, San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza was shot down by a gang-banger wielding an AK-47. Now, we have two fewer SWAT officers in Oakland.
Sadly, according to the national Violence Policy Center, dozens of other police officers and untold numbers of innocent civilians have died at the hands of criminals carrying these weapons in recent years. B
efore some of you get in a dither and call your National Rifle Association representative, this isn't a call to ban handguns or sporting rifles and shotguns. Far from it. No, this is about finally acting to ban AK-47's and other military-spec assault rifles -- weapons specifically designed for use on the battlefield, not our city streets
Unlike the aforementioned firearms, assault rifles are designed to do just one thing -- kill other human beings. You don't use an AK-47 to go hunting or to sharpen your aim at the shooting range.
Specifically, a number of things must happen:
- Restore the federal ban on assault weapons that was allowed to expire in 2004.
- While California has a ban on sales of assault weapons within the state, it needs to sew up some critical loopholes. One would be making possession of any weapon that's been converted to fully automatic mode a felony while another would be to make the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines for these weapons also a serious illegal offense.
A final important loophole to be closed (until a federal ban is restored) would be to stop the currently legal practice of buying the rifles out of state (like in Nevada) and bringing them back into California.
Naturally, gun advocates will object to all of this. They'll say that such laws will only punish law-abiding California gun enthusiasts suffer. It's already illegal, naturally, for convicted felons to possess firearms. But convicted felons, like Mixon, are easily getting their hands on these weapons via the black market. In this case, many assault weapons are being purchased at legal out-of-state gun retailers and shows, such as those found in Nevada, by "straw" buyers who then bring back to California to sell to gang members and other parts of the state's criminal world.
Because of this our cops are being outgunned, plain and simple. It must be stopped.
We must restore a comprehensive federal ban on these rifles. This time the multimillion-dollar lobbying weight of the gun manufacturers and, of course, the NRA and other associations, must be pushed aside in the name of public safety -- in the name of sanity as well.
Jeff Mitchell is a longtime California journalist and political observer.