Chief Right About M-16s

With less than a month in office, Wheeling Police Chief Robert Matheny has had to make a tough, perhaps controversial call. We believe he made the right one.

Not long after he became chief, Matheny became aware that an M-16 rifle had been stolen from the vehicle of an off-duty police officer. West Virginia State Police are investigating the theft.

The M-16 is a very dangerous weapon, capable of fully automatic fire. It is basically the same gun used by most troops in the U.S. military. No one in law enforcement wants an M-16 in the wrong hands.

But M-16s also are standard equipment for many police SWAT teams, including that in Wheeling. The rifle in question was used by a Wheeling SWAT team member. In order to have the weapon and other special equipment ready at a moment’s notice, the officer had been keeping the gun in his personal vehicle. The practice is not uncommon in many police departments.

It is coming to an end in Wheeling. Matheny has ordered that weapons such as M-16s now will be kept at the police department and taken out only when needed.

That may delay response to some emergencies. SWAT team members will have to go to the police department to pick up equipment before responding. In the past, they could go directly to the scenes of emergencies where their services were needed.

Matheny told our reporter he weighed various factors involved before making his decision to have all weapons stored at the police department.

We support him in his decision because we agree with him that the risks involved in storing weapons in personal vehicles outweigh those of keeping guns in a central, secure location. Doing so minimizes the possibility of very dangerous weaponry falling into the wrong hands.