Commentary: No need for assault weapons on our streets

An AK-47 sprays a crowd of 50 people during a craps game outside an apartment complex in Liberty City in January. Nine people are shot. Two teenagers – 16 and 18 – are dead.

Another assault weapon unloads on a group of partygoers in Brownsville celebrating a high-school graduation. Six people are hurt. An 18-year-old is dead.

A modified assault rifle injures three officers in Cutler Bay and kills Miami-Dade Officer Jose Somohano, a father of two, in 2007.

An assault rifle sprays 25 bullets at a car outside a home in North Miami Beach in December 2006. A 17-year-old girl inside the car is killed.

Oh, excuse me. Weapons don't kill people. People do. Except the weapon that criminals use can make the difference between death and survival.

Range and firepower matter. An assault rifle can pierce a person dead at 100 yards. The typical police pistol can match the carnage only at 25 yards.

Assault weapons are meant to do the dirty on cops. They can slam through car doors and walls, and even some bullet-proof vests.

So forgive me for beating the political dead horse of assault weapons, which were banned for 10 years until Congress let the ban lapse in 2004.

True, the ban wasn't perfect. It allowed people to keep weapons bought before the ban – an invitation for criminals to steal them from law-abiding people.

The ban applied to 19 semiautomatic weapons (including the popular AK-47 and its knock-offs), outlawed bayonet mounts and limited ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.

Somohano was killed with a Mak-90, which wasn't covered by the ban. His killer, Shawn LaBeet, had an arrest record and a stash of formerly banned weapons. He bought them with a false ID.

Had the ban been in place, LaBeet would have had to work a little harder and get the weapons on the black market – and he might have come up empty.

Statistics bear the ugly truth. In the years since the ban expired, more assault weapons have been used to kill and maim in South Florida and the nation. One in five homicides in Miami in 2007 was committed with an assault weapon. In 2004, they were involved in only 4 percent of homicides.

Law-enforcement agencies in Miami-Dade and Broward have beefed up their fire power by supplying more assault weapons to their officers and deputies. That's the least they can do to try to protect themselves and the public. But why stop there?

Banning assault weapons should be an easy choice for the new president and Congress. It doesn't trample on the Second Amendment right to own a gun any more than the federal ban on machine guns that has existed for decades.

I grew up with guns, have owned and shot them at target practice. So I get it. But there's no valid reason for hunters to have assault weapons or for city folks to own them unless they plan to kill en masse.

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz calls them "weapons of war." Police Chief John Timoney and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, a former cop, along with officials in Broward County and the vast majority of Floridians polled over and over agree: Lifting the ban has made it easy for criminals and gangs to kill.

Timoney knew what was coming. In April 2004, he warned: "If the ban expires, we will see a return to the horrific violence that plagued our streets during the late 1980s and early 1990s."

In one January night, nine people bore witness to that horror.