The International Association of Chiefs of Police urged Congress to pass `an effective assault weapons ban.'
The International Association of Chiefs of Police issued a report Wednesday calling for a ban on assault weapons, arguing it will make officers safer by reducing the ``firepower available to criminals.''
The report hits home this week in South Florida, where law enforcement officials are still reeling from the murder of one of their own. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, a former police officer and police director, gets angry when he talks about the fact that the gun used to kill Officer Jose Somohano was legal.
''There's absolutely no reason I can see having these weapons out on the street,'' he said.
His voice rising, he brings up Shawn LaBeet, the man who killed Somohano and shot three other officers: ``This guy just went to a gun store with a fake ID and bought one.''
Somohano was killed with a Mak-90, a modified assault rifle that was not covered by the assault weapons ban that expired three years ago. A bill in Congress now would ban it, but that legislation hasn't made it out of committee.
Police say LaBeet bought nine guns in the past year, including six assault rifles.
Local police say the number of murders committed with assault weapons has been steadily rising since the ban expired in 2004. They've become popular on the street, Miami Police Chief John Timoney said.
''It's become fashionable, if you will,'' he said. ``It's almost the gun of choice.''
In Miami, four people were killed with assault weapons in 2003. Last year, 15 murders were committed with assault weapons. So far this year, 12 people have been killed with high-powered guns.
Dr. David Shatz, a University of Miami trauma surgeon at Jackson Memorial Hospital, sees the trend in the emergency room.
''The appearance of violent crime has dropped in half in the last six or seven years,'' he said. ``But assault weapon injuries seem to be increasing.''
Without an assault weapon ban, local law enforcement officers say they're forced to ramp up their own arsenals.
Miami police recently decided to allow officers to carry assault rifles. Last year, the Broward Sheriff's Office allowed deputies to carry them. Fort Lauderdale police have been allowed to for six years.
Miami-Dade police have plans to do the same, Alvarez said. But he doesn't think that will solve the problem, because officers can't carry them on every call.
''They're not going to get out of their cars on a traffic stop with an assault rifle slung over their shoulder,'' he said. ``They're not going to approach a house with an assault rifle in their hands.''
Local law enforcement officials say they're looking to Congress for an answer.
''This is not a local issue. It has local implications, obviously. A police officer was just killed here,'' said Timoney, an ardent gun control advocate.
``The resolution of this is in the nation's capital. But there's no appetite to address that.''
U.S. Reps. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton; Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, and Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, all said Wednesday they support a new assault weapon ban.
''That officer was killed by an assault weapon that shouldn't have been in anybody's hands, at all,'' Hastings said angrily Wednesday.
The National Rifle Association was provided with a copy of the IACP report, but did not return phone calls for comment. Several Republican lawmakers also did not return phone calls.