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Seton Hall Law Report Reveals Government's Extensive Distribution of Combat-Grade Weaponry to U.S. Municipalities

Among findings: 12 different federal agencies supplying combat weaponry to local communities for more than 15 years; training is optional

Newark, NJ – Seton Hall Law’s Center for Policy & Research has unveiled the first systematic review of the role of the federal government in the distribution of combat weapons throughout the United States, also revealing there is a lack of training and control of the equipment once received.

“Since Ferguson, a discussion has revolved around questions of ‘militarizing the police,’” said Professor Mark P. Denbeaux, Director of the Seton Hall Law Center for Policy & Research. “But government-sponsored programs to equip local police with combat-degree equipment have been in place for more than 15 years – before the attacks of September 11, before the ramp-up of the Department for Homeland Security. We are actually witnessing the effect of a government-subsidized program that transfers the tools and techniques of war to local law enforcement, for use not just against foreign terrorists, but also against its own citizens,”

More than a year in the making, the report details the problems in quelling unrest in American cities: first, the conflict between employing law enforcement versus combat techniques and equipment; and second, the decisions to mobilize traditional law enforcement entities versus using the state National Guard.

“The impetus for this report was sparked last year when Research Fellows, several of them military veterans, watched the events unfolding after the bombing of the Boston Marathon,” Professor Denbeaux said, “These former soldiers noticed how strongly the military presence caused Boston to resemble Baghdad. We appreciated the military presence as it was used to track down actual terrorists. However, now we are seeing the same techniques employed against citizens demonstrating in Ferguson.”

The report reveals the following:

  1. There are 12 different federal agencies supplying combat weaponry to local communities. These 12 agencies are spread throughout three different departments —the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice (DOJ). In fact, DOJ alone has four different programs.
  2. The agencies provide billions of dollars of brand new equipment, paid for by the federal government.
  3. This equipment is so widely distributed to so many different local organizations that it is not possible to inventory the equipment or its current location.

“It is shocking that the government has issued billions of dollars in equipment with absolutely no accountability on anyone’s part,” Professor Denbeaux concluded. “There is no discernible inventory of the equipment, and it was distributed without regard to need or with any confidence that personnel employing the weapons have been properly trained in their use and will act within the bounds of the Constitution or the rule of law. It’s not even clear who has access to the equipment or who has the authority to sanction its deployment. This is a troubling situation.”

Seton Hall University School of Law, New Jersey's only private law school, and a leading law school in the New York metropolitan area, is dedicated to preparing students for the practice of law through excellence in scholarship and teaching, with a strong focus on clinical education. Since 2006, Center reports addressing issues surrounding the the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba have been introduced into the Congressional Record by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and as part of a Resolution by the European Parliament. Center for Policy & Research reports have been cited by media throughout the world. The report may be found at


Mark P. Denbeaux
Professor of Law and Director of the Seton Hall Law Center for Policy & Research
Office: 973-642-8822
Email: [email protected]

Janet LeMonnier
Executive Director, Communications
Office: 973-642-8583
Cell: 973-985-3165
Email: [email protected]

September 258, 2014