Cops in Somerville, MA: "It would endanger the public to tell you what guns we have"

Michael from Muckrock sez, "Want to know what guns your neighbor has? Generally public record. What guns your government has? That's top secret. A recent public records request for the armaments of a local police department in Somerville, MA., was met with a surprising response: Releasing a list of guns the department held 'is likely to jeopardize public safety,' and so is exempt from public disclosure. Maybe they're arming up for an insurrection?


  1. There’s somewhat of a delicious irony when people push for gun control and publicity about gun ownership and mental health and guns and everything… but somehow exempt implicitly governments from the same laws.

    1.  This is going to blow your mind:  The US military has weapons that YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT.  The locations of all of our nuclear submarines are NOT PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE.  And yet there is a database of your guns (I know this, because the NRA sells that data to whomever wants it).

      We better be careful, or next the government is going to want our social security numbers.

      1. “This is going to blow your mind:  The US military has weapons that YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT. ”

        This is a repetition of the article content. Good job on repeating that.

        Maybe try justifying why the US citizenry should or should not know about them next time?

        1.  The US military retains information about some of their weaponry and defenses so that hostiles don’t use that information to make the weaponry and defenses useless.  He used the example of location of nuclear submarines, a well known example of “things you don’t want the enemy to know” to indicate this.  I assumed Pope didn’t mention it because it was obvious.

          1. Why can’t I keep some of my hypothetical weaponry and defenses private so that hostiles don’t use that information to make my weaponry and defenses useless? 

            I know that some people have seemed to internalize the fact that there seems to be one law and practice for government and another more restrictive law and practice for citizenry. I believe questioning government practice shouldn’t just be obvious and swallowed without actually going through the intellectual process of analysing these internalized thoughts, thanks.

          2. I’ve thought about it.  I think it’s ok for the government to have fighter jets and bombers, armed naval vessels,  most large caliber military weapons I would question the need for individuals to have them.  The British ain’t coming.  If the North Koreans are coming, you’re not going to be able to shoot their missile out of the sky.  The Somerville PD aren’t coming for you. You are allowed to have a vast assortment of lethal items in your house/bunker/underground lair without government knowledge or approval.  You’re able to keep a bunch more dangerous ones with minimal government oversight.    Most wackos in the US can get there hands on more armament then is sensible. 

        2. This is going to blow your mind: The police are NOT THE MILITARY THEY ARE CIVILIANS.

          You know what else will blow your mind: Thinking for yourself. Questioning everything and NOT parroting a craptacular article. Baaa, baaa, Ba-Zing!

      2. Of course, the difference between the US military and the Somerville PD is that the military, at any given time, has defined ‘enemies’, whereas I hope that the Somerville PD doesn’t.

          1. I suspect Tufts undergrads are waaaaaaay down on their list of priorities considering the crime rate in the eastern parts of Somerville.  In fact, I suspect Tufts undergrads rate below the elderly people who call the Somerville police to complain about Tufts undergrads making too much noise.

        1. While the military technically has defined ‘enemies’ at any given time, I feel that since the definition was widened to “any teenager in a kaftan at the wrong time” it’s not much of a restraint.

    2. Well said. It does seem a bit myopic to allow the psychopathic men of the world to carry anything from handguns to nuclear weapons while attempting to deny a farmer or rancher a firearm.

    1.  I feel the same way about nuclear silos.  We shouldn’t have to pay for them unless the government publishes their locations and detailed schematics of their security systems.

        1. Not really.  There’s a distinct tactical advantage with misguiding an opponent, from chess to martial arts to poker to military applications.  Doesn’t apply in candyland, but it does in most other games.  You have an example otherwise?

          1.  People exist in Somerville who are interested in breaking into homes, cars and hurting others.  I would hope that the PD and most others citizens would consider that part of the citizenry their opponents.  Yes, before you get your snark up, a small component of various police forces are composed of people interested in hurting and stealing from others too.  You’re entitled to the fantasy that they’re all thugs out to hurt others, but on average, they’re a collection of human beings of varying quality, many of whom are decent people who want to help.   So getting back to the question of public interest vs. keeping secrets, if you owned a house or store in Somerville that was checked by the police, should it be public info exactly when they patrol?  There’s keeping an open mind, but there’s also engendering a hole in one’s head. 

        1. The large corporate megachain doesn’t want to move in?  I’m going to go cry myself to sleep now.  It is like Somerville isn’t even in ‘murica! I hear Somerville doesn’t barely even has any chain restaurants, only yucky local stuff.

      1. It is! Why the hate? I live in Brighton (*koff*), and bike the five miles to Davis Square at least a couple times a week so I can work in Diesel. Bike paths, community gardens, a grand old theater, Somerville Open Studios, Artisans’ Asylum, Porchfest, Honk!, the Armory (where there’s going to be an Arduino Battlebots competition next Sunday), all kinds of geeks and artists and makers…I would move to Somerville in a hot minute if my wife didn’t have to commute to Boston College.

      2. How much of Somerville are you actually talking about here?  I’m going to take a wild guess and say “everything west of Porter Square”. In other words, Davis Square.

        1. Davis Square, Union Square, Teele Square, and Ball Square are all great places.  If you extend it to stuff within a block of the border or split with Cambridge, you can add Porter Square and Inman Square too.  Even Magoun square has its charms.  The only less than aesthetic residential bits are east of McGrath and Broadway, which is a tiny sliver of the town.  The town is just 4 freaking square miles big.  How much awesome do you need to be stuffed into an area that small before it meets your aesthetics?

          Camberville is one of the best places on earth with more art, science, and culture than you can shake a stick at.  Anyone who disagrees can fuck right off back to their ‘burbclave and stripmalls.

        1. I haven’t actually been there since 1977, but in my day, you had to cross over to Cambridge just to buy an onion for your belt.

          1. I think in 1977 Detroit was a nice place to live and New York City was scary.  Most of Boston is very low crime and pretty fun these days.  Even the “bad parts” are really not that bad.  A white person might be a little nervous about walking some parts of Dorchester  (and only some) at night, but otherwise, marathon explosions aside, Boston is very safe.  

            When it comes to character, culture, and fun, the greater Boston area beats the living shit out of most of the US.  Somerville itself is one of the shining jewels of the city and easily one of the best areas.

    1. Why exactly do you avoid Somerville?  Not enough chain restaurants or something?  Too much local art?  Does the fantastic activist marching band (no sports bands allowed) festival upset you?  Or maybe you are upset by the number of bike lines and paths?  Do you hate the open studio days when 200+ art studios open up in the wee little 4 square mile town?  Maybe your hate the epic maker space, the Artisans Asylum, because it offers too many classes and cheap access to tools to the public?  Too much local music?  Do natural parks upset you?  Too many local coffee shops?   Perhaps you dislike the local square-centric (and, um, we use the word ‘square’ euphemisticly) nature of the area and prefer your city ordered by strip malls?  Seriously I really want to know why of all the places in Massachussets, you would actively avoid Somerville.

      Somerville and Cambridge (AKA Camberville), which are basically two towns smearing into each other across the river from Boston, is one of the greatest places in the US if you like stuff that is “BoingBoingish”.  If you like ‘burbclaves, chain restaurants, hate place easy to bike around, and in general hate local culture steeped in art and science, then, um, yeah, I guess Somerville sucks and should be avoided like the plague.

      1.  Shhhhh….please don’t tell anyone or it’ll end up like Harvard Sq. (real estate too valuable for the locals to afford and the chains to ignore).

  2. Cops:  Don’t ask us for help.  Don’t take pictures or recordings of us.  Don’t ask us how we’re armed. Don’t try and file a complaint against any of us.  

    New motto on all squad cars:  “To protect our special interests and serve tickets”

  3. …what.

    They are no longer public servants. Somerville, MA, you might not be aware of it, but you’ve effectively privatized your own police force, and it’s subsidized wholly by the state to boot.

  4. “Want to know what guns your neighbor has? Generally public record.” Um… No its not. Maybe whether they have a gun permit is, but what guns they own are generally not public record. Maybe this juridiction has gun registration records, but in most cases what you own is between you, the gun shop, and the ATF ( or actually what you purchased rather than own). In terms of them denying the request I can think of only two legit reasons. 1. 99% of police department firearms are in fact privately owned by individual officers. In most cases the department doesn’t issue guns to their officers, some do, but they are the exception rather than the rule. The second reason might be that some firearms might bely the use of certain tactics. “Oh wow, Sunnydale PD has no long range rifles. Excellent.” ( Read in villain voice.)

    1.  You’re right, of course.  In a nation with 300,000,000 guns in civilian hands, nobody knows what your neighbor has.  There are no records, and buying guns through straw purchasers is trivial.  In fact, the major gun manufacturers promote straw purchase of guns. 

      And I’d bet that most of the firearms in the hands of the Sunnydale PD are in fact privately owned.

      The problem is not gun ownership, it’s gun worship.

      1. I generally agree with your comment, but am a little puzzled because it seems to imply that my post posited something that yours corrects? Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive, if so disregard.

        OK- disregard- I think I was being overly sensitive.

    2. The second reason might be that some firearms might reveal the use of certain tactics.

      You could also argue that this is a reason for disclosure. 

          1. You mean it doesn’t cause the bullet to automatically route itself to the nearest law enforcement officer? We’ve been had.

  5. Wait, you think you can find out what guns your neighbors have through public records?  “Michael from Muckrock”, you don’t really believe that, do you?

  6. Massachusetts generally doesn’t disclose that information for anyone… so, this is kind of a non-story. [PDF]

    “The following is an excerpt from the Massachusetts Public Records law (M.G.L. c. 66, § 10(d))
    regarding firearms license and ownership information:

    The commissioner of the department of criminal justice information services, the
    department of criminal justice information services and its agents, servants, and
    attorneys including the keeper of the records of the firearms records bureau of said
    department, or any licensing authority, as defined by chapter one hundred and forty
    shall not disclose any records divulging or tending to divulge the names and
    addresses of persons who own or possess firearms, rifles, shotguns, machine guns
    and ammunition therefore, as defined in said chapter one hundred and forty and
    names and addresses of persons licensed to carry and/or possess the same to any
    person, firm, corporation, entity or agency except criminal justice agencies as
    defined in chapter six and except to the extent such information relates solely to the
    person making the request and is necessary to the official interests of the entity
    making the request.”

  7. What this fucking country needs is more fucking, unlicensed, unregistered, unreported guns. Goddam it.  Guns is what it’s all about.  As long as we all have our own fucking guns, everything will be OK!  There is nothing, NOTHING,  more special or important about the USA than the right to bear arms. Am I right?  

    Fuck that.

  8. Releasing a list of guns the department held ‘is likely to jeopardize public safety’

    Because that would then cause us to shoot you with them. Really. We just wouldn’t be able to stop ourselves.

  9. ..Dont most police departments use the same weapons? Mossberg 500s and AR-15 derivatives of some kind for backup, along with 9mm Berettas? Its not really unknown I guess you could say is my point. 

  10. It’s not a common behavior, but people have worn bullet proof vests for mass shootings and bank robberies. 

    1. It’s not a common behavior, but the history and existence of cannibals means we’re going to have to remove your teeth.

      1.  Yes, clearly the next logical step to taxpayers being deprived of precise details of weaponry police carry is the forced removal of teeth.  That’s the name of my new band.

  11. Let me just point out the possibility that they don’t want to divulge the size of their armoury because actually the number of weapons is rather small, and criminals would be able to figure out when the police are actually overstretched in terms of local resources.

    Really, it’s a small town with a small PD – is there really a public need for such fine grained data? Anonymous or aggregate data is surely good enough.

    1.  Considering the number of small towns that have been wasting tons of public money on what are essentially tanks and toys…  I think it’s reasonable for those paying you to want to have some indication that it’s being spent appropriately.

  12. Well one would hope that the department is keeping better track…

    One also wonders if part of the reason to not release this data is to keep the public unaware of how well armed the local PD have become.  During Occupy you could see people shocked at how much riot gear, armored vehicles,  etc the police brought forth.
    There was that story where Steven Segal (?) was doing his reality cop show and they used an armored vehicle to save roosters by driving through the fence and running many of them over.

    We have seen what looks to be a military build up in local PD’s.  Billions handed out to keep us ready to stop the imaginary terrorists, some of it spent on stupid things just so they didn’t miss out on getting all of the money possible.  NYPD using money to station officers around the globe and running secret police investigations across the country in the name of keeping NY safe.  Who cares about a few civil rights, we must give all of this up to be safe.  Regular citizens think stop and frisk is a good idea, as long as it isn’t happening to them.

    We spend huge amounts of money arming them, and yet nothing can be done to harden 911 systems to stop Swatting.

  13. This is absurd! How’s a well regulated militia supposed to take up arms against it’s corrupt overlords when the overlords won’t tell us exactly what and how much is in their arsenal? Never-mind the criminals: How’s a the local gang supposed to even stand a chance if they can’t know for certain that they can out-gun any local cops?

  14. Our police have been working quite hard at becoming a military organization. If you don’t see the problem with that, no one can help you.
    The police derive their power from a mandate by the people. NOTHING the police do should be a secret.

  15. This is Somerville we’re talking about. They’re just embarrassed by the amount of money spent on weapons that were only bought for the ironic value. 

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