In what appears to be a growing trend across the United States, the police department in a small Iowa town will be packing a lot of extra heat in order to handle a potential mass shooting, like the one that claimed 28 lives in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
The city council of Marion, Iowa, a town of about 35,000 people a few miles northeast of Cedar Rapids, voted Thursday night to allow the town's police department to purchase $50,000 worth of semi-automatic assault rifles for officers to keep in their patrol cars.
The $50,000 will be spent on 25 AR-15 rifles, which cost roughly $2,000 each, Police Chief Harry Daugherty told The Huffington Post on a call Thursday.
The AR-15 is a lightweight, semi-automatic, military-style rifle that can hold magazines of up to 100 bullets. It can fire more than 120 rounds per minute, depending on how fast its user pulls the trigger. More than three million Americans own an AR-15, making it the most popular rifle in the country, according to CBS.
Daugherty said recent mass shootings were the reason behind the initiative.
"I'm trying to make it so my officers are at least on the same playing field," Daugherty said, adding that officers should have more than just a 9mm sidearm and a shotgun if they encounter a shooter with an assault weapon. "I'm just trying to plan for the future, hopefully for something that will never happen, that will never even leave their cars."
The police chief also said officers will have to undergo trainings before they are allowed to carry the weapons, and that there will be a policy dictating when the weapons can be removed from the vehicles. For instance, said Daugherty, "If there was an active shooter they'd be taking them out. If there's a break-in or something they won't."
The town's 12-member SWAT team is equipped with high-powered rifles, but Daugherty told Fox News that he wants the town's first responders prepared for situations without the team. "We can't wait for SWAT to get there," said Daugherty to Fox.
Marion, Iowa, will join a number of other U.S. cities that have already begun to arm their police departments with more sophisticated weapons.
The Nashville, Tenn., police department allows officers to carry "personally owned" rifles in their vehicles, as long as officers have completed a three-day course on rifle deployment. The Nashville chief of police also cited recent mass shootings as reason for the policy change.
In Owasso, Okla., a private donation of $30,000 is being used buy an assault weapon for every member of the town's police department, Fox 23 in Tulsa, Okla., reported Wednesday.
The Seattle, Wash., the city's police department also issues assault rifles to officers who have undergone trainings. But in the summer of 2011, in an embarrassing incident for the department, a loaded AR-15 was reportedly left unattended on the trunk of a patrol car while the officer was inside a Starbucks.
In addition, some police forces employed by school districts are armed with high-powered assault weapons to better protect schools. The trend is particularly strong in California, where school districts in cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Ana, San Bernardino and Fontana have either bought high-powered rifles for officers or allowed officers to keep their own rifles in their patrol vehicles. In Fontana, for example, the school district police department bought fourteen AR-15 rifles to store in locked safes on school campuses, LA's CBS Channel 2 reported Tuesday.
AR-15s have been used in multiple mass shootings recently: notably by Adam Lanza, who killed himself, his mother and 26 elementary school students and employees in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14; by James Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 in a Colorado movie theater on July 20; and by a 15-year-old who allegedly killed a family of five near Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday.
Although Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a weapons ban Thursday that would outlaw 157 kinds of guns, including the AR-15, the bill has a number of exemptions, including for weapons used by law enforcement.