VALLEJO (CBS 5) — After a bloody incident 15 years ago, California lawmakers allowed police officers to arm themselves with assault weapons. But the rule didn’t consider what happens when an officer retires.

In 1997, Los Angeles police officers were outgunned during a confrontation with two robbers, forcing them to borrow extra firepower from a nearby gun dealer just to fight back. 11 officers and 7 civilians were injured.

One of the bloodiest days in U.S. police history would lead California lawmakers to make an exception to the law that bans the sale of assault weapons.

The weapon of choice: The AR-15. It fires as few as 20 or as many as 45 rounds.  It’s still illegal for most Californians to purchase, but police officers can buy them. Around the state, sales are brisk.

Officer Alan Caragan with the Vallejo Police Department not only bought an AR-15, he never patrols without it. “To know you have additional resources when confronting an armed suspect…helps us out,” he said.

Caragan is not alone. 70 percent of Vallejo’s officers now carry the AR-15. And just like Caragan, the officers dipped into their own pockets to buy it. The weapon, which costs around $1,200, is the officer’s personal property and not the department’s.

“We just don’t have the money to purchase AR-15’s for all our officers,” said Vallejo police spokesman Sgt. Jeff Bassett.

Bassett said safeguards are in place, starting with written permission from the chief. “In our case the officers went to a 3-day, 10-hour-a-day school,” he said.

California cops paying to pack the high-powered guns have been on a steady increase. The State Department of Justice documents more than 7,600 assault weapons registered to peace officers over the past decade.

In the Bay Area, most of the registrations are in Alameda, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, and Solano counties. But one city stands out: Oakland.

Why? Because OPD is dealing with more high-powered weapons seized from the bad guys than any other Bay Area city.

It’s a deadly reality that played out in 2009 at the trigger of ex-con Lovell Mixon. “We lost four officers on one day,” said Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan. “Two by handguns, the other two by assault weapons.”

Jordan supports his officer’s buying their own assault rifles. And since they own them, they’re allowed to use them off duty. “I think we owe it to our officers to make sure they are properly equipped. We also owe it to the residents of Oakland to make sure that the police officers that are here in the city have the equipment to protect them,” Jordan said.

But what happens when those officers retire? The assault weapon they bought with their own money suddenly becomes illegal.

“By this quirk of the law, have we made them a criminal?” asked Ron Cottingham, president of the Police Officers Research Association of California.

Cottingham said for years the law was unclear, until then Attorney General Jerry Brown released an opinion just over a year ago. It stated a retiring officer is not permitted to keep that assault weapon. “It does not serve law enforcement purposes,” according to the written opinion because the goal of the state is to eliminate the availability of assault weapons generally.

“So now we are kind of in a conundrum of what do you do,” said Cottingham. Because if cops paid to pack, who’s going to pay them back?  “If the department couldn’t afford to buy this weapon in the first place how is the department going to afford buying it back from the officer when he retires?”

That’s why he supports a new bill that would allow cops to keep their guns. But that bill is far from bulletproof. In fact it’s in the crosshairs of second amendment rights groups such as the Calguns Foundation.

“At some point there is going to be a big stop sign on this,” said Calguns Vice Chair Bill Wiese.  He lobbies to keep guns in the hands of citizens like himself. So why is he lobbying to keep assault rifles out of the hands of retiring cops? “I just don’t think a retiree gets special privileges,” he said.

He argues if retired cops can own an assault weapon, so should he. “What’s fair is fair,” he said.

Cottingham disagrees. “I believe they are special people. We will lobby the bill heavily, to see that it can pass and go to the Governor’s desk and be signed,” he said.

In cash-strapped Vallejo, police hope the bill will go through because scores of cops will retire soon, and the department and they can’t buy back those guns.

“It’s definitely a pressing issue. So hopefully Sacramento is going to be able to resolve it,” said Bassett.

Wiese predicts however that it’s going to be a tough call, because Brown was the one that wrote the opinion paper that said retired officers can’t keep the guns.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (46)
  1. PeepsRepublik says:

    Do we have a straw man again? The argument should be about the validity of the defining of the AR-15 as an assault weapon. What makes it so? The magazines that hold more than ten rounds? It is not a machine gun or a full auto design.Rifles of exactly this design and configuration are fully legal in CA. The assault weapon ban law is ridicules. It served no purpose. To identical guns, but one is manufactured by Colt and the other isn’t. The Colt is illegal.

  2. PeepsRepublik says:

    Do we have a straw man again? The argument should be about the validity of the defining of the AR-15 as an assault weapon. What makes it so? The magazines that hold more than ten rounds? It is not a machine gun or a full auto design.Rifles of exactly this design and configuration are fully legal in CA. The assault weapon ban law is ridicules. It served no purpose. Two identical guns, but one is manufactured by Colt and the other isn’t. The Colt is illegal.

  3. Bobby says:

    Absolutely not

  4. John T. Clark says:

    Bill Wiese surely you must know that honorably retired peace officers already have special privileges. They can carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the United States under Federal law.

  5. DaPoPoMan says:

    Once again the liberal media is not interested in reporting truth. The article talks of ‘high-powered guns’!!! Can you please explain exactly what is a “high-powered gun”? You sound like idiots. It is indeed all relative. Sure a rifle round is sometimes more powerful than a shotgun and a shotgun is sometimes more powerful than a handgun. It depends on many several factors, such as caliber and loading. When you look at damage done to a human body, you will find the AR15 in .223 pales in comparison to a .30-06, but to your writers they are all “HIGH POWERED GUNS” right? Your writers are starting to sound like non-English speakers trying to write the news and its pathetic. Just watch, with the criminal justice realignment the criminals will soon literally be running amok.

    1. Lawrence says:

      It’s not that the “liberal” media was not reporting the truth, it is more the media failing to do its homework. You and I both know the differences between semi-automatic and full automatic weapons, along with calibers, stopping power, so on, and so forth. However, most members of the media, left or right, do not do the research to familiarize themselves with these weapons and their capabilities. I am for the retired officers keeping weapons that they paid for out of their own pocket, regardless of their function.

    2. Daniel Morseth says:

      1. I think that a ‘high powered’ weapon would be something larger than a .50BMG round, especially if fired from a handgun;
      2. As everyone with an IQ over ten seems to know ( which leaves out media and democrats) an assault weapon must have selective fire capability. These ARs to not. Ergo, they spew Bravo Sierra.
      3. Regardless of the doublespeak definitions, whether weapons have selective fire, single shot capacity, breech or muzzle load, etc., I do NOT believe that any retired police officer should have anything that any other citizen does not carry as well. I have long since grown too weary of the elitist mentality – “Good for ME but to Hell with THEE”.. And IMHO, Heinlein said it best – an armed society is a polite society.

  6. MV says:

    Shouldn’t we be focused on criminals and guns, not law abiding citizens with gun. If a retired police officer can’t have a gun, who can?

    1. asdfasdfasdfasdf says:

      if there was a like button i’d click it for this one.

  7. lee says:

    Corrupt “Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement – California Dept. of Justice” are corrupt. An alarming number of them steal from suspects, sell drugs skimmed from busts and provide murder for hire.

  8. S.B. says:

    AR-15’s are legal in california! great reporting guys, the only stipulations that you have to follow are the length of the weapon, having a non removable 10 round magazine and a lower receiver thats not on the restricted list! seems more like they just want their privilege to have high capacity magazines and no mag securing device.. typical, with power comes this head trip that they are attempting go roll on

  9. RUDEBOY4MEN says:


    1. 702Shooter says:

      According to the above news story, an AR-15 can fire “few as 20 or as many as 45 rounds.”

      We can’t expect them to know about 5, 10, 40, or 100 round mags.

  10. DaPoPoMan says:

    Time to grow a brain there homie. None of us bacon lovers were killed in so cal, it was just the suspects. You try hitting a non stationary target in the head at 100 yards or more with a handgun, oh wait you’ve been watching too much TV again. I know you still believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa, but like them TV is not real. Oh snap!

  11. Phil says:

    How about a state income tax credit equal to value of used assault weapon for retired police officers who donate their weapon to their former department??? Otherwise, what happens to the weapon when the officer eventually dies?

  12. John says:

    A $19 part called a “bullet button” would make most of these rifles california legal. Once these police retire they make their ar15’s california legal just like the rest of us.

  13. diesel-dr says:

    Let them keep them, just make them like all other non LEO, bullet button, 10 round mags, etc. Make ex LEO comply as any other law obiding, gun owner would need to do.

  14. Ben Harris says:

    In my opinion the solution to this problem is for the policeman, upon retirement, to turn in his weapon to the state for disposal. The weapon would be destroyed (crushed, and given to steel recyclers). This reduces the possibility of the weapon being stolen and used by criminals, and it keeps the retired officer in compliance with current state law. The officer is buying this gun to enhance his own personal safety, and I have no problem with that, but City’s and the State are strapped for cash. May be the officer could itemize the weapon as his tool for work and depreciate the gun on his tax return. Since police officers make a pretty good salary, the loss of $2500.00 for the gun is minor. There are people who have lost home, jobs, etc. Also, the above solution would keep City Officials, State Senators and Representatives from wasting time on deliberating on whether or not to change state law. They need to be focused like a “Laser Beam” on the City and California State Budget!!! Resident of Vallejo for 20 years

    1. J-Man says:

      Don’t rely on the media to tell you what current state law is. There is no law in this state saying that a civillian cannot legally own an AR-15. Journalism these days is absolutely attrocious. If anything, there should be a law against uninformed idiots writing “assault articles” like these.

  15. John-G says:

    I am not a lawyer but the
    (fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees that no state will “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” this clause mandates the state must treat similarly situated individuals in a similar manner)- business law today 9th edition Miller& Jentz
    to me, if a ex-cop (a person) can or can’t have an assault rifle I (a person) can or can’t have one too

  16. JED says:

    The biggest problem is somebody asked Jerry Brown for his (ridiculous) opinion.

    What’s the big deal? Cops are the same person before and after retirement – I should think virtually all of them will remain good citizens. For the most part they all are able to maintain a concealed carry permit – thus they are armed and should an incident occur where they find their police training needed, they’ll be on the side of the law, like all good citizens. Who cares WHAT kind of weapon they carry?

  17. AS says:

    You’re am idiot.

    1. Christopher Hoffman says:

      ‘Nuff said!

  18. Dagobert II says:

    I think in the book Animal Farm, it was stated that all animals are equal, but pigs are more equal than other animals. California is an animal farm. Keeping and bearing arms is a right that is recognized, but not given, by the constitution. It is not subject to abridgement by local, state or federal government. As Thomas Jefferson observed, the liberties enjoyed by the people must be maintained from time to time by the shedding of the blood of patriots and tyrants. California would appear to be a target rich environment, at least as far a tyrants go.

  19. Tours Martel says:

    A neat idea- why not make California law the same as other states’? After all the states with less restrictive gun laws have lower crime rates thant ours. Instead of letting our handwringing emotional types dominate the discussion, let’s employ something almost unheard of in California: logic. Then perhaps we solve the budget problem, hmm?

    1. asdfasdfasdfasdf says:


  20. Raymond says:

    Slowly and surely, the left will continue to disarm the law-abiding public while the criminal element will continue to arm themselves. Anyone who doesn’t understand that had better fortify their homes in the same way law-abiding Assies and Jamaicans had to do after those countries took the guns from their citizens.

  21. jack says:

    Most retired cops would probably rise to the occasion if the need arose and so they should hang on to the tools of the trade.

  22. jack says:

    That’s choice. And only one s?

  23. asdfasdfasdfasdf says:

    If these cops weren’t criminals then let them keep them. Good that is is someone who knows how to use one so when Joe Blow Creep Gangster comes to their house they can defend themselves. Liberals are SO STUPID.

  24. asdfasdfasdfasdf says:

    stop voting for idiots and you’ll stop getting stupid questions asked. but i guess we live in lalaland of california where people think that only the richest (50K) should pay taxes and everyone else live free and illegal aliens deserve to be here and go to college with us even though they need to go back home. crazy freak show california is. it’s time to MOVE away from this pathetic state. sad too, i’m a native.

    1. unknown says:


  25. Raj Gatto says:

    I would much rather a retired Police Officer be able to keep his patrol rifle than one of you rabid gun nuts.

    1. Christopher Hoffman says:

      This is silliness. Taken as a group, gun owners extremely law-abiding, kind, respectful bunch.

      Funny how liberal cries for tolerance and diversity go out out the window when it’s a group whom they imagine a certain combination of character traits, such as backward, white trash, bigoted, etc.

      Come to a gun show or our public county shooting park in Clark County Nevada. You will see real diversity:white, black hispanic, old, young, male, female all getting along and being courteous helpful and respectful.

      The old stereotypes are tired, inaccurate and are themselves bigoted and intolerant.

      1. Fern S. says:

        From what I have seen on many you tube videos and gun nut websites many gun nuts are paranoid and mentally ill. If I were in charge only the police would have guns.

  26. Tasha Johnson says:

    Why don’t you gun addicts just move away from California and leave us here to live peacefully without the noise of all your dirty shooting. As for the police let them have their firearms since they can be more trusted due to their high level of training.

  27. Christopher Hoffman says:

    Folks, understand that these are garden variety semi-automatic rifles that are owned in the millions by civilians in nearly every other state in the country. There is nothing special or more powerful about these guns except in the imaginations of anti-gun legislators, who find them easy targets for incremental restrictions.

    The round fired by the AR15 is considered too underpowered for humane deer hunting in most states. Make no mistake, like any firearm, they are potentially lethal, but no more-so than any other semi-automatic rifle that number in the hundreds of millions.

    Rifles of ANY type are relatively rare in gun crime. We can speculate that this is simply due the difficulty in concealing a long arm. According to the FBI crime report, despite their ubiquity,so-called assault weapons are rarely used in gun crime.

    Let the officer’s keep their rifles. There’s no downside to it, and depriving them of their lawfully purchased property is a can of worms.

    CA citizens may already own identical rifles with the addition of a part which requires an external object to release the magazine. It’s called a bullet-button. The part is easily removed when one travels to states outside CA. Or illegally removed by criminals who wish to have removable magazines. So, as per usual, the only people affected by the CA assault weapon ban are the law-abiding gun owners. It accomplishes nothing except to create criminals out of unsuspecting, otherwise law abiding folks.

    So the law isn’t preventing anyone from owning these military style patrol rifles anyway, and there simply has been no crime committed with these weapons that wouldn’t be easily committed with any other gun.

  28. George Washington says:

    So now sworn police officers, who’ve served the community and KNOW THE LAW, are considered “potential terrorists” and threats to the Nazi Socialist State that they must surrender their personal property firearms because of the IGNORANT, MORONIC CALIFORNIA GOVERNMENT’S agenda to turn all citizens into disarmed serfs. Just more evidence of why California has collapsed and will ultimately collapse and fail as a state – It’s lost ALL common sense and the citizens are no longer free, but subjugated slaves of a psychotic government.

    1. Fern S. says:

      Oh brother gun nuts are so mentally connected with their firearms like a baby to it’s pacifier.

  29. Collin Hapnet says:

    The gun nuts should not have access to assault weapons however the police should be able to keep theirs. Police officers are special which is more than I can say for the gun nuts.

  30. unknown says:

    Let them keep their guns

  31. Eric Domejean says:

    If they paid for it,it they own it.