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May 12, 2008

Loose Gun Laws Put Law Enforcement in Crosshairs

The murder of Sergeant Stephen Liczbinski in Philadelphia on May 3 demonstrates how weak laws and unfettered access to firearms in America leads to tragic consequences.

Responding to a bank robbery call, Sgt. Liczbinski was shot five times by an assailant who used a Chinese-made SKS assault rifle. Assault weapons are semiautomatic versions of fully automatic military rifles, and are disproportionably used by criminals to kill cops (the Violence Policy Center has released a report that shows that one out of every five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty is killed with an assault weapon). These types of weapons are not ideal for either hunting or for self-defense—they were designed to rapidly fire high-velocity rounds at human targets in combat situations.

Officer Thomas Krajewski Sr., who held Sgt. Liczbinski in his arms as he died, commented: “There is absolutely no reason that anyone should be carrying around military-style assault weapons. I mean, we saw what a weapon like that did to a human body. I mean, I own guns and my sons and I hunt as well, but I don't have assault rifles or anything. There's no need for it.”

Unfortunately, the federal ban on assault weapons expired in September 2004. It was not the only gun law implicated in Sgt. Liczbinski’s murder. The shooter, Howard Cain, was a convicted felon, and therefore prohibited under federal law from purchasing firearms. According to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“[Tony Robbins, ATF assistant special agent] noted that the ATF was able to trace the SKS rifle used to gun down Liczbinski to a gun show in Fayetteville, NC. He said that because it had been bought at a gun show, the owner did not have to undergo a background check—another proposal that's been blocked by the gun lobby.” The rifle was trafficked illegally and passed through the hands of at least three other convicted felons.

North Carolina is one of many states that allow individuals to sell rifles and shotguns at gun shows without conducting background checks on purchasers. Commonly referred to as the “Gun Show Loophole,” this loophole actually allows individuals to sell guns in this manner not just at gun shows, but also via the Internet, through classified ads in newspapers, across their kitchen tables, etc., etc. The ATF has found that: "Prohibited persons, such as convicted felons and juveniles, do personally buy firearms at gun shows and gun shows are sources of firearms that are trafficked to such prohibited persons."

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has successfully thwarted all efforts to close the Gun Show Loophole at the national level since the time of the Columbine tragedy (where gun shows were implicated). Undaunted, Senators Frank Lautenberg and Jack Reed have introduced a bill to close the loophole during the current session of Congress.

In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter has also taken action, signing five gun control bills into law, including one that bans the sale and possession of assault weapons. Unfortunately, a 1994 law enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly at the behest of the NRA blocks municipalities in the state from enacting their own gun control laws. The NRA has also sued Philadelphia over the signing of the five new bills, and pending the outcome of that lawsuit, the assault weapons ban and other measures will go unenforced.

The result is that loose gun laws will continue to provide outlets for criminals and other prohibited purchasers to acquire firearms, and America’s law enforcement officers and citizens will continue to be caught in their crosshairs.


  1. Point of fact, the SKS is a semi-automatic rifle - it was *never* designed as a machine gun. Why the need to lie?

    Also, you fail to point out that as a felon, the suspect was prohibited by state and federal law from possessing any type of firearm. I'm glad to see that that law was strictly enforced.

  2. We never indicated the SKS rifle was originally designed as a machine gun (in fact, we never mentioned machine guns at all). As our piece notes, the assault weapons that remain legal in America are semiautomatic weapons. The SKS rifle was, however, originally designed for use by the Soviet military (and first saw use against the German army late in World War II).

    As for the law being enforced, it was enforced only after a convicted felon had exploited the Gun Show Loophole and purchased a firearm he never should have gotten his hands on through an unregulated sale. The private seller who sold him this gun had no legal accountability and profited from the transaction. Allowing prohibited purchasers to buy guns in this manner makes no sense and is a serious threat to public safety. - CSGV

  3. Mind you this is a different poster from the first but to quote your own article:

    "Assault weapons are semiautomatic versions of fully automatic military rifles"

    The SKS doesn't fall into this category.

    Also you stated that these firearms were not ideal for hunting. This is also not entirely true.

    .223 (Shot out of an AR-15 or Mini-14) as well as the soviet 7.62x39 (of AK-47/SKS fame) are ideal for small game or "Varminting". If you are planning on hunting feral pig (Pretty big in texas or so I hear) shooting a larger round essentially will splatter the hog and make the meat pretty much unusable.

    I know more than one farmer that totes a mini-14 as a ranch gun, and a few that tote AR-15's. Blasting a groundhog with a full caliber hunting round would be overkill and overpriced, and .22 LR may not get the job done.

    "The SKS rifle was, however, originally designed for use by the Soviet military"

    Yeah yeah, and the ever popular 30-06 was originally designed for military applications as well. Guess what is considered a hunting round now? Fact is almost every bullet out of every gun originally had a military application. Most bolt action rifles work off the basic design of the Mauser... a military rifle.

    The reality of the situation is, a semi automatic hunting rifle is just as deadly if not more so than one of these "magical black rifles". Another reality is I could likely show you a stock mini-14 right now and you would think "Hunting rifle" or "Ranch gun". 15 minute change to black plastic later and you'd be screaming "Assault rifle".

    I have no problems with legal accountability. I had to fill out pages of paperwork to buy my AR-15. The government has a pretty good idea that I own it I'd say. Banning is pointless. In form and function there is no difference between some of these "Assault rifles" and what others call a "Varminting rifle"

  4. Jason, it might be the case that some gun owners enjoy hunting groundhogs with assault rifles. But that doesn’t change the purpose of these weapons. They were not designed to hunt small game. They were designed to kill human beings quickly and efficiently.

    The ATF has summed it up in these terms: “Assault weapons were designed for rapid fire, close quarter shooting at human beings. That is why they were put together the way they were. You will not find these guns in a duck blind or at the Olympics. They are mass produced mayhem” (ATF, "Assault Weapons Profile," 1994).

    In his book "Making a Killing," Tom Diaz states that the purpose of a semiautomatic assault weapon is to “deliver a high rate of fire over a less than precise killing zone, a procedure often called ‘hosing down’ an area.” The principal features of these weapons are their ability to accept high-capacity magazines and devices that make it easier to simply point (as opposed to carefully aim) the gun while rapidly pulling the trigger. Diaz also notes correctly that the gun industry frequently used the term “assault weapons” to describe and advertise these firearms before the term lost favor after some horrific, high-profile shootings in America (including Columbine).

    As for the SKS originally being designed as a semiautomatic (as opposed to automatic) weapon for use by the Soviet military, that mattered not at all in the shooting death of Sergeant Stephen Liczbinski. The weapon Liczbinski faced that day was incredibly lethal. And that is why the officer that held Liczbinski as he died stated: “There is absolutely no reason that anyone should be carrying around military-style assault weapons. I mean, we saw what a weapon like that did to a human body. I mean, I own guns and my sons and I hunt as well, but I don't have assault rifles or anything. There's no need for it.”

    The Philadelphia police are not alone. Police departments across the United States are increasingly being outgunned on our streets by criminals with assault weapons, and many are making plans to arm up themselves. Will they be arming up with the hunting rifles you describe? No, they are arming up with assault weapons in order to match criminals' firepower.

    Finally, Jason, we are confused as to why you would have had to fill out “pages of paperwork” to buy your AR-15, unless it is an automatic-fire weapon that falls under the provisions of the National Firearms Act. Semiautomatic assault weapons can be bought through a licensed dealer with a simple background check that usually takes just minutes, or they can be bought through a private sale without a background check or any paperwork at all. In the first case, only the licensed dealer would maintain a record of the sale if you passed the background check. In the latter case, there would be no record of the sale at all. Either way, the government would have no knowledge of the sale. - CSGV