Thanks to the hard work of thousands of advocates around the country, the Pentagon can no longer transfer bayonets, weaponized combat vehicles, and other war equipment to local police in the United States. These new restrictions, approved with bipartisan support in December 2020 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), are an important step forward.
But still, they fall short of the restrictions FCNL has been lobbying for and fail to meet the provisions outlined in the Justice in Policing Act.
Included in the NDAA were provisions to ban the transfer of some war equipment to local police.
The FCNL community first began advocating for legislation to ban the transfer of military combat equipment to streets in the United States in 2013. Our efforts gained more traction after the Michael Brown protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in which police were photographed in armored vehicles. Since then, we’ve continued our work to demilitarize the police through lobbying on Capitol Hill, in-district lobbying, media work, and through FCNL’s Advocacy Corps. In November, demilitarizing the police was a central focus of the lobbying done by more than 600 advocates at FCNL’s Quaker Public Policy Institute.
Limits on Bayonets, Grenades
Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK) offered an amendment to the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would restrict transfers of certain types of military equipment to local police. His amendment, which passed by a vote of 90 to 10, specifically targeted transfers of bayonets, grenades (other than stun and flash-bang grenades), weaponized tracked combat vehicles, and weaponized drones.
Another proposed NDAA amendment, sponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (HI), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Kamala Harris (CA), and Rand Paul (KY), outlined a broader set of restrictions on military equipment transfers. This amendment received bipartisan support from 51 senators, but failed to reach the 60 votes needed for inclusion in the final bill.
This stronger amendment, known as the Schatz-Murkowski amendment, was based on the key provisions of the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 1714), which FCNL has supported since 2015. The amendment would have specifically banned the transfer of:
- Armor-piercing firearms, bayonets, grenades (including stun and flash-bang), and explosives
- Combat, assault, and tactical vehicles, including mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles
- Armored or weaponized drones
- Combat aircraft
- Tactical clothing
The Schatz-Murkowski amendment also required all other transfers to be focused on law enforcement activities, mandated training and reporting on use of transferred equipment, and mandated the return of equipment that is not appropriate for policing activities.
More Needs to Be Done
Ending the transfer of equipment designed for war zones is a key component of FCNL’s advocacy to end police violence. In the House, FCNL has worked with Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-4) for many years to advance the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 1714). We will also continue to advocate for the Justice in Policing Act, which contains key components to limit police militarization. This legislation was the centerpiece of FCNL’s advocacy at the Quaker Public Policy Institute in 2020.
Providing military equipment to local police reinforces the conception of police as an occupying force in communities and, according to some studies, increases the likelihood that police will shoot and kill the people they are intending to protect.
What Can You Do?
It will be crucial to hit the ground running in 2021.