An updated Metro Nashville Police Department policy will allow officers to carry "personally owned" rifles inside their vehicles.
(Photo: Samuel M. Simpkins, The Tennessean)
Joey Garrison, The Tennessean
NASHVILLE -- In response to the recent mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., and others, the Nashville police department will allow trained officers to carry their personal AR-15 rifles inside their vehicles while on duty.
"Deadly events across the United States over the past few years, including, among others, those in Carson City, Nev., Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., demonstrate the high-powered weapons with which criminals are arming themselves," Police Chief Steve Anderson said.
"It has become increasingly clear that a pistol and shotgun may not be enough for an officer to stop a threat to innocent citizens. This policy change is in the best interest of public and officer safety."
Under the department's existing policy, a limited number of officers involved in SWAT and canine unit assignments carry those weapons.
According to police spokesman Don Aaron, the updated policy will allow officers to carry "personally owned" rifles inside their vehicles as long as guns are inspected and authorized, weapons aren't modified and officers complete a three-day course on patrol rifle deployment.
The move is similar to a police policy change in Brentwood, Tenn., policy after an armed bank robbery in 2002 in which gunfire injured two officers. There, local businesses and residents chipped in financially to arm officers with the AR-15s.
Aaron said Nashville's department has considered the move for a few years.
He likened the change to a departmental shift in 1990 from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols, framing the latest change as a necessary step to deal with modern crimes. "Criminal behavior and criminal activity evolve."
The AR-15 rifle, the weapon of choice during three U.S. mass shootings, has emerged at the center of a national debate over gun control.
A gunman turned to an AR-15 in the December shooting spree in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adults. An AR-15 also was used in a recent shooting at an Oregon mall and the movie-theater massacre last summer in Aurora, Colo.
With its modular design and reliability, the AR-15 is a favorite among some gun enthusiasts. Gun control advocates take issue with the gun's stopping power and bullet capacity. But some who back greater gun control measures applauded Metro Police.
"I think it's a good policy," said Philip Breen, pastor of Nashville's St. Ann Catholic Church, who has helped lead a petition drive in Nashville that calls for restrictions on high-capacity ammunition clips and assault weapons. He drew a sharp distinction between gun control and equipping officers.
"They are the lawful authorities and are trained to use them," Breen said. "In fact, they probably need to protect themselves in this day and time."
Still, the change surprised some with Nashville law enforcement backgrounds.
"It's a very big change," said Metro Councilwoman Edith Langster, a former police officer here, declining to give an opinion before she reviewed the policy.
"This is more dramatic than that," she said when reminded of the shift from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols more than 20 years ago.
Patrol rifles, under the new policy, are to be used only "when it is clear that a tactical advantage over a criminal suspect is warranted," Aaron said, and are not meant for routine calls. Officers are to keep guns in locked cases inside their police cars.
According to department figures, an estimated one-third of 1,400 sworn Metro police officers own these weapons. Twenty of these officers will help oversee the department's initial training course later this month.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Karl Dean directed questions to police officials when contacted by The Tennessean.
Robert Weaver, president of the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police, said his members support the policy change. "This is the appropriate measure to make sure officers have the tools they need."
The department will provide ammunition. Aaron said it would be a "tremendous expense" if Metro Police were to furnish every officer with an AR-15, which costs between $800 and $1,200. The full-scale transition would cost $1.4 million.
"There are no immediate plans to conduct a massive purchase of rifles at the city's expense," Aaron said.