Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said Thursday he would soon introduce legislation that would ban the Defense Department from transferring military items like high-caliber automatic weapons, armored cars and other military-grade weapons to police agencies.
The bill would also require Defense to tell Congress about the items it is about to transfer, before shipping any items to state and local agencies.
Johnson’s Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act is a response to the police crackdown on protestors and other civilians in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this week.
Those police actions drew heavy opposition from federal policy makers, including Attorney General Eric Holder, who warned local police about using aggressive tactics and military gear to control crowds. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also weighed in by saying the police must be demilitarized.
Those calls were heeded by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) on Thursday — he put state highway troopers in control of security in Ferguson, and scaled back some of the more aggressive tactics that led to criticism.
Still, it’s not clear House Republican leaders will allow Johnson’s bill, or any similar legislation, to be called up on the House floor. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had no comment on whether any plans for debate and vote were in the works.
Johnson’s proposed legislation would amend current law, which allows the Defense Department to send surplus military gear to state and local agencies. The bill would draw a hard line on what can be transferred, and would ban automatic weapons “not generally recognized as particularly suitable for law enforcement purposes, including those that are .50 caliber or greater.”
Defense would be blocked from transferring tactical and armored vehicles, or mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles.
In addition, no armored drones, aircraft, stun grenades or silencers could be transferred.
While transfers of other items would still be allowed, Defense would have to file a report with Congress about items it’s proposing to transfer. And, agencies receiving these goods would have to certify that they have “the personnel and technical capacity, including training, to operate the property.”
Billions of dollars worth of military-grade equipment has been transferred since 1990, when the law first took effect. Under the law, Defense can move this equipment to local agencies for use in law enforcement activities, including counter-drug and counter-terrorism actions.
Johnson’s bill would remove that counter-drug rationale from the law. Read Johnson’s bill here: