Realistic danger


When Ralphie Parker received a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas, the adults’ biggest worry was, “You’ll shoot you eye out!”

But the mid-20th century America of A Christmas Story was a simpler time and in many ways, a better one. Today, everything is a lot more complicated, and not in a good way. That includes what was once every American boy’s dream of owning a BB gun.

With today’s authentic-looking BB rifles and pistols, there’s very real potential for something a lot worse than the loss of an eye. Those who think it’s cool to wield an authentic looking BB gun in public put themselves and police officers in dangerous and sometimes deadly situations.

There have been many incidents, some of them fatal, of police responding to calls reporting kids or adults wielding guns that turned out, after the fact, to be BB or airsoft guns that are indistinguishable from real firearms. A Google search of “replica guns used in crimes” yields 101,000,000 results.

Put yourself in the position of a police officer approaching a pistol-wielding suspect. You have a split second to make a decision. Decide one way, and there’s a good chance you won’t be going home after your shift and your family will be planning your funeral. Make another choice and you may very well be turning in your badge and facing a murder charge and a civil rights suit, not to mention the pro forma anti-police demonstrations after it turns out that it was “just” a BB gun.

Police have to react in milliseconds. Pundits have years to second guess.

Think it couldn’t happen here? Think again.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Wakefield Police were dispatched to a local address after a caller said that a friend was headed over there to harm another man. Fortunately, it turned out that the threat was greatly exaggerated. But while interviewing the two involved men, police found that one of them was in possession of a BB pistol that was an authentic-looking replica of a real firearm. This incident could easily have had a very different ending.

In many cases, there is absolutely no way these replicas can be distinguished from a real gun – even close up with time to examine it, never mind if you’re a police officer at a distance with seconds to react.

Part of the problem is that manufacturers know that “authentic look and feel” are big selling points for these BB guns. If that’s what customers want, that’s what the manufacturers are going to give them. The laws related to these replica guns vary from state to state. Some require that a BB gun have a bright colored tip or other markings to identify it as a toy. But these can be removed or painted over without much difficulty. Go online and look up BB guns for sale from at Walmart or Amazon. You’ll find lots of images of very realistic-looking guns and very few bright orange tips.

Conversely, criminals have been known to apply bright colors to real guns in an effort to confuse police.

In Ralphie Parker’s America, they didn’t worry about criminals using the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle in the commission of crimes.

Unfortunately, we no longer live in Ralphie Parker’s America. We live in Bart Simpson’s America – except Bart’s all grown up and can’t pass a background check to get a real gun to use to rob the Kwiki Mart. So, he gets a BB gun that looks just like the real thing.

That’s a script for an episode with a tragic ending.

[This column originally appeared in the October 18, 2018 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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