The Military-Style Equipment Obama Is (and Isn't) Banning for Police - Rolling Stone
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The Military-Style Equipment Obama Is (and Isn’t) Banning for Police

Local police departments will no longer be able to purchase grenade launchers from the federal government

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Under new rules, police departments can no longer purchase certain kinds of military-grade equipment from the federal government.

Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty

The Obama administration announced Monday that under new rules police departments will no longer be able to purchase certain kinds of military-grade equipment and weaponry from federal agencies or using federal funds. Other used military gear will still be made available “in accordance with new and more rigorous controls.”

What kinds of things will police departments no longer be able to get, and what will they still be able to get their hands on? Here are some examples.

Newly Prohibited

Until recently, local police departments were allowed to acquire this military equipment from federal agencies, but now they can’t. 

Tracked armored vehicles: The federal government can no longer sell local cops armored tanks that use rolling tracks to move.

But the wheeled variety of tanks that were a source of outrage when police rolled them out during the Ferguson protests are apparently still A-OK. 

Weaponized aircraft or other vehicles: According to the new regulations, such vessels cannot be purchased or transferred “with weapons installed.”

That’s great news, as long as someone doesn’t uncover a BYOM (bring your own missile) proviso.


Grenade launchers: Congratulations, America: Your local police will no longer be able to “launch small explosive projectiles.”

It’s not clear if towns that already have grenade launchers — such as the hamlet of Santa Maria, California — will have to give theirs back. Perhaps President Obama can clarify this at some point: “If you like the grenade launcher you already have, you can keep it.”

Bayonets: The U.S. still has bayonets? WTF.

Still Available

These things will still be available to local police forces, with some new controls in place – specifically, local police will have to submit paperwork “outlining their need for procuring the equipment” and certifying that there will be adequate training procedures in place. The administration has offered an initial outline of such protocols; it includes an emphasis on community policing that would steer departments away from using such weapon in the first place.

Unmanned aerial vehicles: This is the technical term for what are more commonly known as drones. Per above, it seems that such drones can’t be sold with weapons installed – thank goodness. But there’s nothing in the regulations saying surveillance drones wouldn’t be allowed. Remember how the FBI flew spy drones over protests against police violence in Baltimore? It seems there’s nothing stopping local cops from doing the same. Great.  

Battering rams: Still available are battering rams and other “breaching apparatus” designed to “provide law enforcement rapid entry into a building.” 

Of course police should be equipped with what they need to do their jobs. Still, it would be nice if there was a little more transparency around the sorts of “breaching apparatus” available for local governments that presumably are only otherwise used on “enemy combatants” abroad.

Explosives and pyrotechnics: If you haven’t heard, “flash bang” grenades aren’t just for military special forces anymore. And under the new rules, local cops–  perhaps fearing protesters have gained the upper hand in terms of theatrics – will still have access to fancy, military-grade pyrotechnics. 


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