School Cops with Assault Rifles: Make My Day — Not


Keeping American TV “safe” since 1975

W.J. Astore

At Northeastern University in Massachusetts, members of campus security are now routinely carrying military assault rifles in their vehicles. The rationale is that you never know when and where terrorists will strike, so you have to be prepared to outgun them at all times.

Many Americans equate guns with safety — and bigness with value. So, the bigger the gun, the safer you are.  Right?

It didn’t used to be this way.

Back in the 1970s, I remember when the police got by with .38 revolvers. Up-arming the police meant going from .38 specials to .357 magnums.  Of course, these were six-shot revolvers.  Then cops started carrying 9mm handguns with clips that could carry 15-18 rounds.  Now some cops carry .40 caliber semi-automatics, which are more powerful than the 9mm but also more difficult to control.

You might call it the “Dirty Harry” syndrome (that bigger guns are better), except that that’s being unfair to Harry (played so memorably by Clint Eastwood).

As a teen, I was a big “Dirty Harry” fan, so I remember the rationale for Harry’s Smith & Wesson .44 magnum.  He carried it because he was a pistol champion (as he said, “I hit what I aim at”), and because he wanted a round with “penetration” (he noted that .38 rounds “careen off of windshields”). Finally, Harry said he used a “light special” load to limit recoil, saying it was like firing a .357 with wadcutters.  (All of this is from memory, which shows you the impression those “Dirty Harry” movies made on a typical teen interested in guns.)

Soon after Harry started boasting about his .44 magnum, a new TV show aired in America: SWAT (standing for “special weapons and tactics”). Police SWAT teams are now common in America, but they were somewhat of a novelty forty years ago.  I recall that the team carried AR-15 assault rifles along with specialized sniper rifles and shotguns.  They drove around in a big police van and arrived each week just in the nick of time to save the day.  My favorite character was the guy who carried the sniper rifle.

My excuse?  Heck, I was a teenager! What’s disturbing to me is how my teen enthusiasm for guns is now considered the height of maturity in the USA.  So much so that we arm campus police with assault rifles and see it as a prudent and sensible measure to safeguard young students.

The ready availability of guns of all types has created our very own “arms race” in America — an arms race that is being played out, in deadly earnest, each and every day on our streets and in our buildings.  We’ve allowed the cold, bold “Dirty Harry” of the early 1970s to be outgunned not only by today’s hardened criminals but by campus cops as well.

Assault rifles and SWAT teams are part of America’s new normal. Rare in the 1970s, they are now as American as baseball and apple pie.

I don’t think even Dirty Harry would be pleased with America’s new reality.  Make my day — not.

3 thoughts on “School Cops with Assault Rifles: Make My Day — Not

  1. “You gotta ask yourself, Bill Astore: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well do ya, punk?!?” Ha, your luck just ran out because I’m commenting on your column! I was a bit more mature than you when Mr. Eastwood was doing his Dirty Harry thing and you won’t be surprised I was not attracted to that character or those movies. When I finally happened to see, on “free” TV, the scene referenced in my opening sentence, the one everybody re-enacts to either express admiration or disdain for Clint, I was more than a tad underwhelmed. Of course, the dialogue is meant to be droll, but I don’t find white cops menacing black folks with a handheld “cannon” entertaining. Now, LEOs (Law Enforcement Officers) will argue that they have to arm-up to keep pace with criminals, gang members, etc. in an arms race. The retort to that is: this is a screamingly serious SOCIETAL problem, the glorification and proliferation of firearms, and we are assured again and again it’s unique to USA among “developed” nations. And AS A SOCIETY we have failed miserably to deal with it. Just ask Pres. Obama. I thoroughly rejected his approach to foreign policy years ago, but I still stand with him on this issue. Now, to say that “SWAT teams are now common” is quite the understatement! Is there a town of more than, say, 500 population that lacks a SWAT team these days??? And military hand-me-down gear, if they got in the queue quickly enough when the Federal government started making it available to police departments across the nation? What would Dirty Harry say about all this? Well, he was just a movie character. But the actor who portrayed him is probably perfectly content with the current situation, if not actively campaigning for further proliferation of firearms on our streets and in our homes. And THAT would NOT be droll.

    • Thanks, Greg. Actually, I think the first three “Dirty Harry” movies are less discriminatory than many of today’s movies. In the first, Harry’s enemy is a white psycho (Scorpio). In the second, it’s a band of renegade vigilante cops. In the third, it’s a bunch of homegrown wannabe terrorists led by a Vietnam vet who was “busted out of the service on a Section 8.” Harry is helped by a black “militant” leader by the name of Mustapha, who is falsely arrested by an incompetent and prejudicial white police captain. Imagine that!

      Harry’s partner in the first movie was Hispanic; the second movie, his partner was black; and in the third movie, in a nod to feminism, Harry’s partner was a young woman who saves his life. The movies often feature some great jazz as well.

      Of course, lately Clint Eastwood has lost it a bit, talking to empty chairs and such …

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