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The toy gun conundrum

I wrote Saturday’s editorial (“No need for toys that cost children’s lives”) supporting legislation requiring that BB guns and pellet guns be brightly colored or translucent so they won’t be mistaken for real firearms. That’s the state law for squirt guns, Nerf guns and other toys. But it didn’t apply to the air soft rifle carried by Andy Lopez, which resembled an AK-47 assault rifle, all the more so because its orange tip (a requirement of federal law) was missing.

Here’s something I didn’t address: When it comes to guns, cops may be colorblind.

In 2000, a convenience store on Humboldt Street in Santa Rosa was robbed. The store owner told 911 dispatchers, “I think it’s a toy gun. He doesn’t have a real gun. It’s a toy gun.” In that instance, the toy gun was painted black. The robber was shot, and the police chief said, “They were able to consider that in the split second they had, but the officers made a choice that their lives were at risk.” In clearing the officers six months later, a deputy district attorney said the same thing, displaying a picture of the toy alongside a real handgun, much as police did in the Andy Lopez case. Police also tell stories of real firearms painted to resemble toys, so, as the editorial acknowledged, there aren’t any guarantees associated with a law mandating bright colors for BB guns.

What does all this mean?

I’m wrestling with that. As a boy growing up in the post-World War II era, I carried a lot of replica guns around the neighborhood with my friends, never imagining any real danger. As the father of a young teenager, I watch gleeful boys chasing one another around with their Nerf guns. As the brother of a veteran cop, I hope he never has to tell the difference between a toy and the real thing.

I’m sure that toys should look like toys, not like real firearms. Kids have imaginations, cops have to make split-second decisions. Why risk a tragedy? I understand that a law mandating bright colors for toy guns won’t prevent every future tragedy.  I’ll settle for some of them – and hope for most of them. Finally,  I’m pretty sure the deputies in Santa Rosa had more options better ones, too than aggressive engagement or praying that Andy wasn’t carrying a real rifle.

Studying those options and applying them in the future may be the one positive thing that can come out of this awful chapter in local history. The community, our elected officials and law enforcement need to engage in that conversation.

What do you think?

Jim Sweeney





4 Responses to “The toy gun conundrum”

  1. Geoff Johnson says:

    Sworn peace officers are hired and paid to do a dangerous job, and they know that.

    Like the Secret Service men who protect the President, they should be prepared to take a bullet.

    No one who is more concerned about his/her own safety than the public’s should become a peace officer.

  2. dbaker says:

    I think that kids today are treated like crap by everyone. Thanks to zero tolerance policies, mass medication, and the obvious realization that they have been sold out by those who came before them we’re lucky they don’t kill more people. Sadly the society they were born into has given rise to an alarming number of suicides. They aren’t taught philosophy or that right and wrong exist as objective choices. They are regarded as sub human by their authoritarian school wardens. Subject to police drug sniffing dogs, searches of their clothes and bags for things like Aspirin and then punished as if this was a crime. They have spent 12 years in an environment that couldn’t be more stressful and then find out it didn’t even really matter. They have been expected to develop character, responsibility, and a sound moral compass in an environment that is hostile to the qualities that we expect. They are made to remember useless crap and to know when it should be written down for “tests”. They are tortured with the business of schooling to such a degree that they never come to recognize the true power in knowledge or the self gratification of learning for the sake of learning.

    They say the way a society treats its old and young speak volumes to the character of the people. I think it’s time to take a look in the mirror and accept responsibility for the ridiculous joke that has become of this once proud and independent nation. Letting the state take your children at the age of five by force if necessary is way too young and totally unneeded. Letting grown up strangers teach your children about sex is flat unbelievable and if done anywhere but school would be treated as the dirty and threatening thing that it is. Letting a bunch of egotistical quacks tell them they are no better than animals and that if they wanna get pregnant at twelve all is well because they can be excused for abortions without telling the stupid parents. No you people have been given the fruits of your own labor. Your job as parents is simple. Protect them, feed them, and instill the right values in them so they will have something to stand on later. Fail, fail, fail. Nurture is far more critical than nature and I believe we will see this become more and more evident in the near future.

    The one thing that seems to take hold is the learning how to accept orders and to recognize the state as the authority on all matters. Acceptance of the arbitrary right of others to control their speech, clothes, and even their relationship with God. But hey, Jesus said don’t kill, turn the other check and all that hippie crap. Well that don’t jive with the state’s need for young recruits who will kill for conquest people that have never even been capable of posing a threat to them. So 1st amendment, gone. 4th amendment, gone. Well actually the national founding documents are hateful and dangerous and could lead to domestic terrorism so they just leave most of it out and instead focus on slavery in a way that makes it seem like white Europeans were the only race of man to oppress his fellows.

    I could rant for hours with regards to the great disservice being done to the young and ultimately the nation at large but I’ll stop. After all the easy route to intellectual dishonesty and laziness says that the children are to blame. That they are spoiled and lazy and lack culture or common sense. Let me ask you this. What could you learn to do all by your self if given 12 years to explore your tastes, passions, and make rock solid voluntary associations based on freedom to surround yourself with those of like mind? Could you learn to read? Truth is startling but it’s there all the same. We would be churning out innovative passionate, and well rounded individuals that start their own business before 18 and instead they are begging for work at Walllmart trying to pay back a debt that produced very little value when compared with the struggle to repay and this is the reward for doing as you’re told

  3. Follower says:

    @David Stubblebine
    You’re “spot on” but THAT will never happen.

    If we were to seriously examine the issue of “gun violence” in our society it would lead to some very unpopular conclusions.

    Then politics takes over the conversation and the whole things ends up in a twisted pile of ridiculous, unenforceable, draconian, oppressive new laws giving MORE power to an already power drunk Government that surely “knows what is best for you.”

    I feel equally sad for the family who lost a child AND the Deputy who felt his life was about to end.

    What a tragedy.

  4. David Stubblebine says:

    First, we need to stop pretending the “Toy Gun Conundrum” is somehow separate from the larger Gun Violence issue. When Mr. Sweeney was plying his neighborhood with replica guns, there weren’t other kids taking real guns into schools every other week and shooting up the place. This shift in our culture has been the primary factor forcing law enforcement (against their will) to alter their response to kids carrying guns.

    I think the questions are complicated and so the answers will be too but the Toy Gun conversation must take its proper place as a component of the far more serious Gun Violence conversation.