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September 28, 2007
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Fla. sheriff's department buys 14 elephant guns

By Henry Pierson Curtis
The Sun-Sentinel

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. Orlando is safe from rampaging pachyderms now that the Orange County Sheriff's Office has bought 14 elephant guns.

The newest weapon in Sheriff Kevin Beary's armory fires a half-inch-diameter bullet with sharpshooter accuracy.

"The sole purpose for this weapon is large or exotic animals," sheriff's spokesman Jim Solomons said Thursday.

Each .499-caliber Alexander Arms Beowulf rifle has a laser sight to let shooters hit where they aim out to 300 yards a perfect tool to help the agriculture and marine unit deal with cattle that wander onto the BeachLine Expressway and Florida's Turnpike.

But the Sheriff's Office also is thinking bigger.

Orlando's theme parks are home to elephants, polar bears, lions, giraffes and hippos. Should any of them get loose, deputies need the right weapon to stop them if public safety is threatened, Solomons said.

If the worst happens, the Beowulf can stop it.

Essentially an assault rifle on steroids, the $800 weapon has "the power to kill anything that walks, swims or crawls!" according to a 2003 product review by gunblast.com. "Everyone who shot the gun was grinning like an idiot, and muttering phrases like, 'I gotta get me one of these.'"

When considering whether to buy the rifles, the Sheriff's Office remembered that an elephant ran amok and killed its trainer in Honolulu in 1994.

"They had to go through a whole lot of bullets, and all they did was aggravate the animal and put it through needless suffering before they were able to bring it down," Solomons said.

In the 1960s, an elephant escaped from a circus in Winter Park. It rampaged along Cady Way into Winter Park Pines, leaving large mementos of its presence along the street, until it was subdued and recaptured.

Orange County's toughest neighborhoods may not have elephants, but the deputies who work there are getting a shipment of 25-shot machine pistols.

"Matching firepower," said sheriff's spokesman Capt. Mark Strobridge, when asked why.

"Our tactical squads that are getting the weapons are dealing with the worst of the worst and those types of neighborhoods," Strobridge said of the new semiautomatic, .45-caliber Heckler & Koch machine pistols. "They're more accurate than their [regular] pistols, and they can stand back further from the bad guys."

The agency intends to buy 49 of the weapons at $1,660 each.The arms race in law enforcement dates back to the 1980s, when cops across America complained they were outgunned by criminals. So they traded in their old six-shooters for 16-shot, 9 mm pistols.

A couple of years back, Beary replaced those with more than 1,000 more-powerful .45-caliber pistols for his deputies. AR-15 assault rifles joined the 12-gauge shotguns in many patrol cars.

And then killers behind the county's skyrocketing murder rate over the past two years increasingly armed themselves with AK-47s and other high-powered, high-capacity weapons.

"When I started out, there was only a small SWAT team that had these nontraditional weapons," said Strobridge, a 26-year veteran. "Unfortunately, the criminals have evolved and the types of weapons they carry. And we should not be behind. We should be ahead."

Copyright 2007 The Sun-Sentinel

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