Toy guns become safety issue

Police dealing with increase in replicas of some firearms

Lt. Jerry Mott holds two weapons — one real, one fake. The one in his right hand is real. The replica gun in his left hand was confiscated as evidence in a crime.

Photo by Emily Mentzer
Lt. Jerry Mott holds two weapons — one real, one fake. The one in his right hand is real. The replica gun in his left hand was confiscated as evidence in a crime.

POLK COUNTY — More and more law officers are encountering people armed with replica guns.

Toy guns don’t always look like the Daisy Red Ryder BB guns of old these days.

It used to be standard for toy guns to have an orange tip, making them easily identifiable as fake. But people are removing that tip, or buying replicas never made with the identifier, said Dallas Police Department Lt. Jerry Mott.

“The replicas we’re seeing are not manufactured with the (orange) tip,” Mott said. “We’re not seeing it.”

While the toys fire a BB or pellet and not a bullet, officers won’t know that until someone shoots him or her with it. Many of the replicas have the same weight and feel of a real gun, too.

“It’s horrible because we can’t tell the difference, usually,” Mott said.

Dallas Police encounter people of all ages carrying these fake guns, from children playing games to adults who are prohibited from carrying real firearms, Mott said.

“We’re finding them on people doing criminal acts, or we’re finding them on children who are playing,” he said.

Some adults carry them for intimidation, he added.

“It’s very common to see these with drug dealers,” Mott said.

In Monmouth, officers had an incident involving a fake gun a few months ago, Sgt. Isaiah Haines said.

“How we handle these incidents varies based on the situation,” Haines said. “The issue with ‘fake’ guns is the fact that we generally do not know they are fake until the situation has de-escalated. With that said, the individual deploying the ‘fake’ gun could expect to be met by the same level of force to what the officer perceives they are facing.”

In other words, fake or real, if someone pulls out a weapon and points it at an officer or another person, an officer will prepare to shoot.

“If an adult reaches for it (a replica firearm), they’re usually challenged at gunpoint,” Mott said. “We usually get compliance. They know they’re not going to win a gunfight with a police officer (using a fake gun).”

Independence Police Lt. Rick Igou said it is difficult to distinguish real versus fake even when looking at these guns in normal lighting and under non-threatening circumstances.

“Once you compound the problem in darkness or with a person who is being uncooperative, it becomes more challenging,” he said.

Independence Police Chief Bob Mason recalled an occasion he had many years ago with a fake gun.

“I came close to shooting a young man who was reported as being armed,” he said. “He chose to draw that replica weapon out of his waist when confronted by police. It was impactful enough on me that it stays with me today.”

Unless the replica is used to commit a crime, it cannot be confiscated, Mott said. In fact, it is not illegal to carry a real firearm openly in Oregon. Cities may have ordinances regarding carrying of weapons in parks and other government buildings, such as the courthouse.

“We have a city ordinance against discharging them in the city, but to just carry them, there’s no violation of the law there,” Mott said.

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