City cops, who are protected by body armor that can be pierced by some high-powered assault weapons, are joining the chorus of voices calling for a ban on those types of guns.
Assault weapons have been at the center of debate in the days following the horrific massacre of 26 people inside a Connecticut elementary school, where the gunman used a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle.
In New York City, the NYPD routinely encounters illegal weapons in their daily patrols.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an outspoken proponent of gun control, has been joined by NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in his criticism of assault weapons that are capable of piercing body armor. The police officers who come across those guns are speaking up, too, calling for a ban on assault weapons.
"There is no legitimate reason for an assault weapon with their high-capacity magazines to ever be in the hands of a private citizen," said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. "We whole heartedly support an absolute ban on the sale to, or possession of assault weapons to anyone except the military or law enforcement officers."
John Eterno, a retired NYPD captain and professor at Molloy College, said that although concealed handguns are most commonly encountered on the job, assault weapons pose a serious threat to New York City in particular.
"Just one weapon can do a lot of damage," Eterno said. "Think of Times Square or places where there are crowds. Officers would be in a very difficult situation."
The NYPD has recovered 15,754 guns since its first buyback program in 2002 — a portion of that being assault weapons. Eterno said cops often discover assault weapons during gang or drug busts.
"In general, if you have a drug dealer, there will be some sort of weapon," he said. "A typical cop is only armed with a 9mm Glock, and if you come across this type of weapon, it will be a major problem."