A Gunman's Arms Cache

Friday, May 12, 2006

THE FACT THAT Michael W. Kennedy's home was practically a weapons depot deepens the mystery surrounding his attack on a Fairfax County police station Monday. Mr. Kennedy, the Centreville teenager who died in an exchange of gunfire with police after fatally shooting Detective Vicky O. Armel, was armed with an assault weapon, a hunting rifle and five handguns at the time of his death. An even larger weapons cache was discovered at the home of Mr. Kennedy and his parents. Police seized nine firearms that were scattered around the house, including at least two that were loaded. And that was without knowing the contents of a locked gun safe in the household, which police, lacking a specific search warrant, did not open.

One question is whether Mr. Kennedy's parents were aware of his mental health problems -- he had received counseling from one facility earlier this year and escaped from another one last month -- and, if so, whether they tried to restrict his access to weapons. Nor is it clear to whom the weapons in the house or in Mr. Kennedy's possession belonged or how they were acquired. Unfortunately, his parents, Brian and Margaret Kennedy, have not made themselves available to police; so far they have only issued statements through their attorney. They are suspected of no criminal wrongdoing, but their cooperation might address some of the case's unanswered questions.

The police estimate that Mr. Kennedy fired an incredible 70 rounds or more during the course of his brief but deadly assault at the Sully District station. That number partly underscores the fact that he was wielding an AK-47-style assault rifle. High-powered, military-style weapons were banned until September 2004, when President Bush and Congress allowed the ban to expire, at least partly at the behest of the National Rifle Association. We don't know whether the AK-47-style weapon Mr. Kennedy used to such awful effect was marketed or obtained by him before, after or during the decade-long ban. But the availability of such a lethal weapon and Mr. Kennedy's use of it reinforce a point that police chiefs made in their attempt to have the ban extended two years ago: Assault rifles are unnecessary for hunting or sport, and no mentally disturbed or criminally inclined person should find them so easily.

Since the ban expired, at least 44 people have died after being shot with assault weapons, and more than 38 have been wounded, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. A number of big-city police departments have reported that assault weapons are used increasingly in violent crimes. Monday's tragic events underscore the menace they represent.

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