In Compton, school police can use semiautomatic weapons


Three variations of the AR-15 assault rifle are displayed at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento in 2012. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

It’s a place that’s been associated with gunfire at least since the release of N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” in 1988: Compton, Calif., a city of 100,000 south of downtown Los Angeles, and a site of 1992 riots following the Rodney King verdict.

Now, California public radio station KPCC reports some school police in Compton will be permitted to carry semiautomatic AR-15 rifles — the same kind of rifle used in a recent Oregon school shooting — in schools.

The reason? School shootings, the school board said.

According to a new school board policy, the weapons are to be used “in response to situations that clearly evidence a need or potential need for superior firepower to be used against armed suspects.” And: “Only those situations where the circumstances at hand are beyond the capabilities of the standard patrol sidearms (e.g., Long distances, suspects utilizing body armor, and/ or high powered, high capacity weapons) should be considered.”

Police said the heavy firepower was necessary.

“This is our objective — save lives, bottom line,” said Compton Unified School District Police Chief William Wu.

Though the National Rifle Association called for “a good guy with a gun” in every school after the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, Wu said not just any gun would do.

“Handguns you’d be lucky to hit accurately at 25 yards,” Wu told KPCC. “With a rifle in the hands of a trained person, you can be go 50, 100 yards accurately.” Five percent of school shooters have worn body armor, he noted.

Some in the community weren’t enthusiastic.

“The school police has been very notorious in the community and in reality has never had to shoot anyone before,” said Francisco Orozco, a recent graduate and founder of the Compton Democratic Club, told KPCC. “So this escalation of weapons we feel is very unnecessary.”

In 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported a lawsuit was filed against the Compton school district. Among the allegations: racial profiling of Latinos and use of excessive force. One family said a student’s father was targeted for deportation to Mexico after he filed a complaint against an officer.

“The school police has not even earned the right to carry handguns,” Orozco told KPCC. (Compton school police can already carry handguns.)

There is evidence that school police may need stronger guns. In a review of 62 mass shootings that killed at least four people each, Mother Jones magazine found earlier this year that “more than half of mass shooters possessed high-capacity magazines, assault weapons, or both.”

However, Compton may be the wrong police for school police to pack more heat. According to Fox News Latino, the city is 65 percent Latino and 33 percent African American. Yet, in its review, Mother Jones found 44 of the shooters were white. (“Mass shootings represent only a sliver of America’s overall gun violence,” the magazine noted.)

Officers will have to apply to carry an AR-15 and, if selected, be trained. They will also have to pay for the rifles — which cost about $1,000 each — and ammunition themselves.

There is often confusion over the definition of “semiautomatic.” Semiautomatic weapons fire one bullet each time the trigger is pulled. Automatics fire continuously for as long as the trigger is pulled. And neither “semiautomatic” nor “automatic” connotes a “machine gun,” as some think.

Last year, a gun advocate told CNBC about the AR-15, which the network called “the civilian version of the M16.”

“The rifles are sane, safe, reliable types of firearms used by millions of citizens for lawful purposes,” Steve Sanetti, president of the National Sports Shooting Foundation, said. “They are not just killing machines.”

School begins Monday.

h/t Fox News Latino

Justin Wm. Moyer is a reporter for The Washington Post's Morning Mix. Follow him on Twitter: @justinwmmoyer.

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