Cops with Machine Guns: The Killing of Michael Nida

In October 2011, the police-related shooting death of unarmed man, Michael Nida, 31, raised serious questions about the state of policing in the city of Downey, California, a suburb of Los Angeles.

Why did it raise questions? The father of four who worked in construction wasn’t shot with a handgun by one of the Downey Police Department’s officers. He was shot with an MP5 submachine gun, the same gun used by the Navy Seals.

“Why would he have a machine gun?” asks Jean Thaxton, one of Nida’s guardians since birth. “We’re not in a war zone, I didn’t think. I didn’t think this was a war zone.”

“An ordinary patrolman isn’t going to be carrying something like a submachine gun,” says Timothy Lynch, the director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the CATO Institute. Lynch says that even if they have those types of weapons, they should only be using them in rare circumstances, such as when they are confronting a heavily armed suspect.

But for decades police have been arming themselves with military equipment like M16s, grenade launchers, and armored personnel carriers.

“At first when they got it, the idea was, yeah, this is extraordinary weaponry, we’ll have it just in case we’ll ever need it.” But as decades went by, police started to use them to enforce drug warrants and then started carrying them on routine calls.

Approximately 7:30.

Written and produced by Paul Detrick. Camera by Jim Epstein, Joshua Swain and Tracy Oppenheimer.

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  • Killazontherun||


    Homeless Man Found With Cache of Weapons, Ammo and List of Politicians' Names...

    Okay, who's missing?

  • Paul.||

    "Cache of Weapons". Haven't we been through this already?

    According to the media, I have an "arsenal" at my house.

  • ||

    Since reason is posting very, very few articles today, I'm just going to post this here:

    50 Upcoming Movie Remakes

    Enjoy your dismay.

  • ||

    'The Seven Samurai'


  • Auric Demonocles||

    There is, he's just running away from the Christmas pageant in an attempt to escape from prison.

  • Tim||

    This time there's EIGHT! We add a feisty Latina...

  • Loki||

    ...played by Michele Rodriguez.

  • Paul.||

    I'd watch that.

  • Loki||


    You don't remake Kurasawa, God dammit. You can borrow from him, like when they made The Magnificent Seven, or like George Lucas did with Star Wars but you don't fuck with a masterpiece.

    10 bucks says they end up making a dreadful CGI/ wire fu piece of shit.

  • ||

    Ten bucks? Ten thousand bucks says they end up making a dreadful CGI/ wire fu piece of shit.

  • Loki||

    Err, I left out the "k". It should have said "10k bucks". No wait, it should have said "10M bucks". Yeah, M as in million. That's what I meant...

  • Killazontherun||

    There's a chance that the upcoming Total Recall will be better than the original because the plot of the first sucked on maggots. Present a hierarchy of villains, kill them in strict sequence.

  • ||

    No there isn't.

    The first one's plot was perfectly fine; what is your objection? There were a lot of physics fails, but the overall mindfuck of the movie was done well. Was it real? Was it all his Rekall vacation?

  • Killazontherun||

    It didn't really matter until the last scene (which was done well, btw) because his actions could not effected events any differently than the path he chose so not much of a mind fuck. Horrible plotting.

  • Killazontherun||

    Oh, wait, it was all in his head Oh . . .

  • ||

    ...the plot of the first sucked on maggots


    But for realz, when are they gonna remake They Live?

  • Tim||

    PSS New Godzilla in the works.

  • Killazontherun||

    Will there be a Green Day song remix for this one too? 'cause that was the best thing that came out of the last American one? Seriously, great remix.

  • Tim||

    I thought that the best thing was the star running around trying to get a pee sample from Big G.

  • ||


  • ||

    Yep, I've been following it avidly. I have a poster of the concept art, and a few snuck screengrabs from this past Comicon.

  • ||

    My son is a giant Gojira fan, and has been following the turns and twists of the new one as soon as information hit the web.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Jim, put on these glasses.

  • Killazontherun||

    If I knew Total Recall had fans, my surprise of the day, I would have started tweaking you guys about it years ago.

  • ||


  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Not a remake, actually, but a radical reboot, allegedly more faithful to the original short story that was the basis for "They Live," is rumored for 2013.

    8 O'Clock in the Morning:

    Having read the story and loved "They Live" (which diverge about as far from each other as, say the book and movie of "Starship Troopers," or "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" and "Total Recall"), I would pay money to see both a faithful movie version of the story as well as a remake of the movie. But on the other hand, Carpenter's "They Live" is, in its way, sublime: nobody should frak with its consummate B-Feature perfection.

  • Killazontherun||

    Reread a few years back. That story hasn't aged one day in seventy five years. Still feels like a total original.

  • Tim||

    Total Rerecall
    The Semmeingly Neverending Story

  • Tim||

    Crocodile Redundee

  • ||

    No remake of Mystic Pizza.

    Julia Roberts + Connecticut + Pizza

    That's a slam dunk.

  • Loki||

    Ugh, Red Dawn? That's gonna be a total shit sandwich. Newsflash: the Cold War is over, and no, the Chinese are not the same. We're not in any kind of war with them, unless you count the war of who can be the most communist, in which case they're still ahead, despite our efforts to catch up.

  • Loki||

    The Annie remake sounds aweful too. Another excuse for Will Smith to practice nepotism. Yay!

  • Pro Libertate||

    It sucked in the first place.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Starship Troopers?!

    How do make a remake of a movie that sucked to begin with?!

    The Seven Samurai?

    Anyone who dares to remake a Kurosawa film needs to be dragged into the street and beaten. The man was an artist. You don't pencil crow's feet on the Mona Lisa. You don't attempt to finish Lacrimosa. And you don't remake The Seven Samurai.

    Death Wish Escape From New York

    Pardon me, Hollywood, but that's my childhood your screwing with. Back away from the movies.

    Highlander w/Ryan Reynolds

    It can't be any cheesier than the original unless they start using whiffleball bats.

    The Warriors

    *runs away crying*

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    If they do it right, a Highlander reboot could be a very good thing. It is too bad that actors age. I don't think people were really done with Adrian Paul's TV version, but he would have a hard time selling the "immortality" of Duncan MacLeod today. Perhaps, with advancements in photorealistic CGI, Paul could wear an ageless Duncan MacLeod "suit" for a green-screen movie, a new TV series, or a set of TV movies. He was always fairly good at modifying his voice to sound younger and more callow.

  • Swamp Think||

    *clink clink clink*
    Warriors, come out and playyyaay

  • SIV||

    The Suspiria remake wasn't on the list. Please tell me it is canceled.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Escape From New York? Death Wish?

    What are these guys thinking? Those movies were pretty specific to a very different time. I mean, what is the Snake Pliskin going to be trying to escape from, an overbearing nanny state? With crime at record lows (you can haggle the numbers, but NY isn't the 1970s) what's making the Bronson character in Death Wish go off?

  • Lord Peter Wimsey||

    You could still set the new Death Wish in Washington DC, with a mayor like what's his name...the crack smoking lunatic they had years back (I think he's still a city councilman or local witch doctor or something).

    You'd have to get someone like Will Smith to play the Bronson role, otherwise charges of racism would come fast and furious. And make sure you have some white skin heads in there somewhere, even if they aren't the guy's who rape the wife and daughter.

    But how the hell are they going to remake Death Wish without the obligatory anti-gun message?

  • Amakudari||

    The Seven Samurai, Oldboy, The Warriors, The Birds. Awesome. And The Seven Samurai is being directed by the a guy whose took his first opportunity to make a film to direct one about a tournament where 10 people fight to the death.

    I hope all involved die slowly of cancer.

  • Tim||

    "Shot while trying to escape"

  • SugarFree||

    The difference between the military and police is an important one to emphasize. Citizens are not the enemy and the police's job is not to occupy their jurisdiction like a military force.

    But, realistically, the lack of accountability is the problem, not the weapons, as such. A responsible cop with a RPG is no more dangerous to citizens than one with a Glock. It's degree not kind.

  • Killazontherun||

    Sharks, dolphins or pigs, arming other species is never a good idea.

  • Tim||

    I think that part of the officer's duty is to apprehend and restrain people, when you need both hands on your MP5 and you're all done up like Iron Man it makes it hard to run down and grab a scared kid.

  • Tim||

    And if Iron Man suits are ever built you can bet that the police will find justification for repulsor rays, boot rockets and the superstrength.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I have to admit, the distinction between being shot to death by a pistol or a machine gun seems a bit academic to me.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Right. I thought the focus on the type of weapon used was a little...odd. The focus should be on the fact they shot an unarmed man.

    Also, the "used by the Navy SEALs" is a bit misleading. The HK USP was favored by SWAT teams pretty much immediately after its introduction. It's more strongly associated with the police/SWAT than the military, who tend to use heavier weapons.

    Finally, sub guns are falling out of favor with police and military alike; the M4/AR-15 carbine platform gives more firepower in a nearly-as-compact package, and 5.56x45mm actually tends to penetrate less through walls than 9mm, if you use the right ammo.

    I also don't really have a problem with an officer having an M4/AR-15 in his trunk; there are times when a rifle is needed and a pistol just won't do (and not just in firefights either; putting down a deer struck by a vehicle, for instance).

    So a big *meh* on the premise of this video. If you wanted to focus on the militarization of police, talking about how their uniforms and mindset have changed and the APC's and various other large goodies they get is far more relevant.

  • Generic Stranger||

    That should be HK MP5; I got my Teutonic terminology confused.

  • Paul.||

    But, realistically, the lack of accountability is the problem, not the weapons,

    I'm beginning to disagree with this. The cops keep screaming they're outgunned... outgunned by whom?

    The cops have all of the weapons of a small-arms military unit. Assault rifles, sub-machine guns, optics, high-power rifles.

    The only time they would need this kind of hardware would be for a real, honest-to-god high intensity hostage situation.

    When was the last time we even saw one of those?

  • Chris Mallory||

    But all that black ninja/SEAL stuff makes them look so cool while they are hiding behind their AFV waiting for the active shooter to off himself after shooting all the unarmed victims he could find.

  • Paul.||

    You saw the newsreel on Columbine, too.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    We know that Barney would have ... ahem ... killed to carry a full-auto weapon around Mayberry. But what would Sheriff Andy do?

  • Killazontherun||

    Call 911 if he somehow managed to make it to the phone.

  • RFID||

    If I were the cops I'd make sure to receive as little training as possible in all areas. That way if you screw up you aren't responsible for anything!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I don't know if I want to view this video.

  • ||

    I cant really add anything to what y'all have already said, but since the subject of firepower came up, it occurs to me that Holmes shot 70 people and only 12 died. I am betting most of the 12 died from the shotgun and not the AR-15. He bought bulk ammo for the rifle so I am assuming it was surplus military stuff...high penetration fmjs. Those probably made pin holes in the people.

    If you want lots of fatal wounds, go with larger caliber and softer bullets. A ruger mini-30 with soft nose bullets comes to mind....or just stick with the 12 ga.....a saiga with bookoo 10 round mags and 3in #4s.

    I probably shouldnt be saying this in case some nut or some cop is reading these threads.

  • ||

    even if they have those types of weapons, they should only be using them in rare circumstances

    ... such as when a whole litter of puppies attack them simultaneously.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Rust, and mission-creep, never sleeps.

    When I visited Madrid in 1982, I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that regular cops -- at least all the regular cops I ever encountered on the street -- carried automatic weapons. I was encouraged by one such cop to keep off the grass in a downtown location, early one morning, when I went out for a run and some calisthenics. Thereafter, I noticed that cops with full-auto weaponry were everywhere. I was so glad to live in the United States, where, I thought, we would never put up with something like that.

    Joke's on me. And sadly, on Michael Nida, too.

  • ||

    Nice to see Reason going full retard on the "ZOMG! MACHINE GUNS! ASSAULT RIFLES!" bandwagon.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    As others have pointed out, the automatic weapons aren't really the issue. You're just as dead with a bullet from a handgun. What probably is the problem is the fact that the political leadership views the public such that they'd arm the police with these kinds of weapons. The mentality is one of doing as much damage to the "enemy" as possible and innocents killed in the course of action are collateral damage - unfortunate but a fact of life. The criminals, the enemy, in this case isn't necessarily someone you should look at as trying to kill and the collateral damage is the public that you're putatively claiming to serve.

  • miamsd||

  • Chad||

    Please educate your writers. This is sensationalist drivel. The militarization of the police is a legitimate problem, and the killing of an innocent person is always a tragedy, but to use it to spread fear and misinformation is despicable. There is a tremendous difference between a submachine gun and a machine gun. Submachine guns fire pistol caliber rounds. The HK MP5 used by the officer most likely fired 9mm cartridges, just like his service handgun. They are often used by SWAT teams and hostage rescue teams specifically because they are lightweight, portable, and do little collateral damage. Should one have been deployed in this case? Probably not, but using quotes like "the same gun used by the Navy SEALS," and "Why do they need a machine gun, we're not in a war zone," completely mischaracterize and sensationalize what happened. I thought better of Reason and its writers. My respect for the magazine is greatly diminished.

  • Chad||

    I see this has already been covered. Sorry for the repeat. The comments weren't showing up earlier. Generic Stranger has it right in his comments above.

  • Ron||

    Of course the "machine gun" headline to this story is bullshit but has far as arming the police does nobody here remember when just a few years ago two armed bank robbers were able to out gun the entire LA police force and they had to break into a sporting goods store to get what they needed to put them down. There is a reason why their armed and if I was a cop I'd want as much as I can already have at home.

  • Ironchef||

    ONE incident from the 90s justifies all that has happened since?

    and whatever the cops ended up using, they still got it done.

  • sg03ty||

    and whatever the cops ended up using, they still got it done.

  • Uncle Jimbo||

    I have written extensively in agreement with the idea that our police are over-militarized. As a former Special Forces Weapons NCO on a door-kicking team, I know a helluva lot about the topic. But this piece completely misses the boat by focusing on the fact that the gun used was an MP5. From my piece at BLACKFIVE

    "The thing is that the MP5 is a freaking 9mm, an under-powered pistol round that the Marines have decided is too puny to even use in their side arm. Again the anti-gun fanatics have fixated on the appearance of the gun, not the facts of its operation. Additionally, would you rather take a round from a 9mm MP5 semi-auto, or a .40 cal semi-auto pistol or even a .38cal wheel gun? I will take that "machine gun" any time.

    The MP5 is really just a semi-automatic pistol with a stock and a slightly longer barrel. It is no more a machine gun than a Humvee is an M1 tank."

    Whether or not the cops should be carrying these guns is a wasted argument, the guy would be just as dead (maybe more dead) if they had shot him twice at 20 feet with a normal side arm, so the type of gun is irrelevant. If you want to argue against no-knock raids etc, then don't get sidetracked by hating on a scary gun.



  • Ardelle||

    “At first when they got it, the idea was, yeah, this is extraordinary weaponry, we’ll have it just in case we’ll ever need it.” But as decades went by, police started to use them to enforce drug warrants and then started carrying them on routine calls.

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