March 20th, 2017 by Attorney Dan Carman
Toy guns are not a new fad. Some might even say they’re as American as apple pie. Even if you’ve never played with a BB gun or water gun, your father or grandfather has likely relayed long, complicated games of Cops and Robbers from their childhood. Then there’s that famous line from the movie A Christmas Story: “You’ll shoot your eye out!” This often repeated phrase is in response to little Ralphie’s most sought-after Christmas wish: A Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and “this thing which tells time.” Yup. Playing with guns has somehow become an American tradition. When the gun is bright orange or green, shoots water, and stays in the back yard on hot summer days, no real trouble will likely ensue. But when the guns look real and kids carry them around neighborhoods, tucked in their pants, that’s when a game of Cops and Robbers starts to produce actual casualties.
Popular gun manufacturer Sig Sauer makes air guns that they advertise as “carbon copies” of their lethal counterparts. The commercial even depicts the toy as a mirror image of their P226 semiautomatic handgun. At a recent news conference, an Ohio police chief showed a picture of a BB gun that looked “practically identical” to his own department-issued Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol, complete with laser sight. A 13-year-old robbery suspect had pulled the incredibly realistic pellet gun from his waistband and was fatally shot by a responding officer. Encounters such as this have led to almost 90 fatal police shootings in a two-year period. Other than one starter pistol and one lighter, the weapons used in these encounters were found to be real-looking BB guns, toys, and non-functioning replicas.
This issue first got national attention about 25 years ago when a troubling number of police shootings involving kids and toy guns caused Congress to pass the first (and only) federal regulation on the subject. Manufacturers were required to use bright orange barrel plugs on most imitation guns, but two subsequent studies determined that the marking system did not help police distinguish fake weapons from real ones. With gun-rights groups lobbying against changing the appearance of the toys, a 2015 bill to require the entire surface of toy guns to be painted a bright color stalled in Congress.
Law enforcement is expected to make split-second decisions. So, what is a police officer supposed to do when demand for realistic firearms is on the rise, there are hundreds of millions of real guns in the country, and it’s practically impossible to tell the difference from a distance? For their own safety and the safety of civilians, officers will continue to assume the guns that they see and that are pulled on them are, in fact, lethal weapons – and that means more people getting shot while wielding inert copies of deadly firearms.
No one can anticipate what will happen in a tense situation, but using a realistic gun can have very real consequences. If you have any questions about this topic, you can find out more by discussing it with one of the attorneys at the Lexington, KY-based Carman Law Firm. As criminal defense lawyers with years of experience, we offer thorough, experienced representation. Call today at (859) 685-1055 or fill out this online contact form to find out how we can help you.