Bill seeks to ban replica guns in Bal­ti­more

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Yvonne Wenger

The Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil is con­sid­er­ing a city­wide ban on toy guns that are made to look like pis­tols, ma­chine guns and ri­fles — and have been linked to shoot­ings in Bal­ti­more and cities across the coun­try.

In April, po­lice in East Bal­ti­more shot and wounded a 14-year-old mid­dle-school stu­dent who they say was car­ry­ing a spring-air-pow­ered BB gun that re­sem­bled a semi­au­to­matic pis­tol.

Coun­cil­man James B. Kraft said he filed the bill to pro­tect city youths.

“The eas­i­est way to re­solve this is to get the replica guns off the streets,” Kraft said.

New York, Chicago and Wash­ing­ton all have im­posed re­stric­tions on replica firearms. The Bal­ti­more bill has broad sup­port on the coun­cil and could re­ceive fi­nal ap­proval by De­cem­ber.

The leg­is­la­tion comes days af­ter po­lice in Colum­bus, Ohio, shot and killed a 13-yearold boy who they say was car­ry­ing a re­al­is­tic-look­ing BB gun in his waist­band.

In Bal­ti­more, a po­lice de­tec­tive shot 14-year-old Dedric Colvin in the shoul­der and leg April 27. Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis called the Daisy brand Pow­erLine Model 340 spring-air pis­tol he was car­ry­ing an “ab­so­lute, iden­ti­cal replica

semi­au­to­matic pis­tol.”

Po­lice said at the time that Dedric Colvin’s in­juries were not life-threat­en­ing.

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake said she sup­ports the con­cept be­hind Kraft’s bill but will watch it as it moves through the leg­isla­tive process.

Spokesman An­thony McCarthy said Rawl­ings-Blake wants any leg­is­la­tion to hold “man­u­fac­tur­ers and those who are re­spon­si­ble for the point of sale ac­count­able, and not fam­i­lies and es­pe­cially our chil­dren.”

“Con­tin­u­ing to ed­u­cate the com­mu­nity on the dan­ger­ous con­se­quences of what can oc­cur when chil­dren and adults pos­sess, use or dis­play replica guns is crit­i­cal,” McCarthy said. “Of­ten­times, these replica guns have very few dis­tin­guish­ing charac- ter­is­tics from a real weapon.”

City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young backs the leg­is­la­tion, a spokesman said.

It “boils down to try­ing to save lives,” spokesman Lester Davis said. “This gives the po­lice an­other tool to make sure we pro­tect kids.”

Un­der the leg­is­la­tion, own­ing, car­ry­ing or oth­er­wise pos­sess­ing a replica that could “rea­son­ably be per­ceived to be a real firearm” could re­sult in po­lice seiz­ing the replica and is­su­ing a $250 fine for a first of­fense.

Fines would rise to $1,000 for sec­ond and sub­se­quent of­fenses.

Coun­cil­man Bran­don Scott, vice chair­man of the coun­cil’s pub­lic safety com­mit­tee, said en­forc­ing such a ban could pose a prob­lem for po­lice, but fig­ur­ing out how to ad­dress the is­sue is worth­while.

“It’s a per­pet­u­a­tion of a cul­ture that teaches chil­dren, es­pe­cially young boys, that hav­ing a gun makes you big, bad and tough — and it puts them in dan­ger,” Scott said. “Why does a young man need to have a toy that looks like a real gun?”

Scott said black youths are es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble.

“In Amer­ica, our cul­ture teaches the world that black boys are dan­ger­ous,” he said.

He said he wants to see con­gres­sional ac­tion.

“We can talk about how it con­nects to the right to bear arms,” he said. “Does the sanc­tity of guns in our coun­try over­whelm the sanc­tity of lives?”

Po­lice have been work­ing with the Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity to come up with so­lu­tions, said T.J. Smith, the depart­ment’s chief spokesman. He said po­lice are gen­er­ally sup­port­ive of Kraft’s pro­posal.

“Ad­di­tional con­ver­sa­tion will go into it be­ing crafted for the fi­nal bill,” Smith said. “Right now, [the leg­is­la­tion is] about the per­son who pos­sesses it as op­posed to the peo­ple who sell it.”

Smith asked whether it would be fair to ban a per­son from pos­sess­ing a replica gun when “a store on North Av­enue can sell it.”

Coun­cil­man Bill Henry said he wants the bill amended to ad­dress such sales.

He hopes ac­tion in the city will prompt a statewide ban.

“Let’s also cut off the sup­ply,” Henry said. “If you can’t legally buy them in Mary­land, then you have less of an is­sue of en­force­ment, in terms of po­lice try­ing to take them away from kids.”

Ef­forts to pass such leg­is­la­tion in An­napo­lis were de­feated dur­ing this year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion. One pro­posal called for a ban on the man­u­fac­ture and sale of replica guns that “clearly” re­sem­ble firearms.

Gun rights ad­vo­cates and paint­ball fa­cil­ity op­er­a­tors joined oth­ers in op­pos­ing the statewide leg­is­la­tion in An­napo­lis this year. Some called it govern­ment over­reach.

Af­ter Dedric Colvin’s shoot­ing, some state law­mak­ers said they would try again for a ban when the Gen­eral Assem­bly con­venes in Jan­uary.

The city leg­is­la­tion would build on a grass-roots ef­fort that be­gan over the sum­mer.

Juan Nance, a city school­teacher who lives in Reser­voir Hill, helped as­sem­ble a group of res­i­dents to visit stores along Pennsylvania Av­enue in West Bal­ti­more and ask own­ers and man­agers to stop sell­ing replica guns.

He said many re­moved the toy guns from their shelves.

Nance de­scribed the ef­fort as a step to­ward stop­ping boys and girls from im­i­tat­ing the vi­o­lence they see and hear.

“It’s a so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity right now,” Nance said. “It’s not like play­ing cops and rob­bers — kids are rob­bing each other.

“We’re try­ing to change the nar­ra­tive of how they think.”

On April 27, plain­clothes detectives spot­ted Dedric Colvin, then in eighth grade, in East Bal­ti­more’s Jon­estown neigh­bor­hood with what they be­lieved to be a firearm. Ac­cord­ing to po­lice, the detectives got out of their ve­hi­cle and iden­ti­fied them­selves as of­fi­cers, and the boy be­gan to run.

The of­fi­cers chased the boy on foot for about 150 yards, po­lice said. Then the de­tec­tive shot him.

“Those po­lice of­fi­cers had no way of know­ing that it was not, in fact, an ac­tual firearm,” Davis said. He said of­fi­cers can’t wait to de­ter­mine if a gun is real be­fore tak­ing ac­tion. The boy was not charged with a crime. An at­tor­ney for Dedric Colvin’s fam­ily urged the coun­cil to pass the leg­is­la­tion.

“Replica guns were pop­u­lar when I was grow­ing up, [but] they didn’t cause lit­tle kids to get shot by any­one, in­clud­ing the po­lice,” Wil­liam H. “Billy” Mur­phy Jr. said. “To the City Coun­cil: Let’s do this sooner rather than later.”

Po­lice in Colum­bus in­ves­ti­gat­ing a re­port of an armed rob­bery last week spot­ted three males who matched the de­scrip­tion of the sus­pects, au­thor­i­ties said. When of­fi­cers tried to speak with them, they said, two of them ran away.

The of­fi­cers chased the pair into an al­ley and tried to take them into cus­tody, ac­cord­ing to po­lice, when Tyre King, 13, pulled out a gun with a laser sight. An of­fi­cer fired and hit the him sev­eral times. The boy died at a hospi­tal.

The 2014 shoot­ing death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a pub­lic park in Cleve­land drew na­tional at­ten­tion. Video footage showed the boy bran­dish­ing a toy gun in a pub­lic park.

The city of Cleve­land agreed to pay $6 mil­lion to set­tle a fed­eral law­suit brought by Tamir Rice’s fam­ily.

The shoot­ings have helped fuel dis­cus­sion of the dis­parate treat­ment by po­lice of black and white youths.

Davis, who is white, has said the Bal­ti­more en­counter might have ended dif­fer­ently if it had been his sons in Dedric Colvin’s place.

“They’re two 13-year-old white kids,” he said af­ter the shoot­ing. “If they had a gun in their hand, would it be per­ceived dif­fer­ently? Yeah, I’d be the first one to ad­mit that.”

No coun­cil mem­bers spoke in op­po­si­tion to the leg­is­la­tion Mon­day.

The cur­rent coun­cil’s term ends in De­cem­ber. Any leg­is­la­tion not ap­proved by then would ex­pire.

The city now pro­hibits the pos­ses­sion of gas or air pel­let guns ex­cept on pri­vate prop­erty or at a range.

The law ap­plies to “any gun or other de­vice, by what­ever name or de­scrip­tion known, that is de­signed to dis­charge or can read­ily be con­verted to dis­charge a pel­let or other ob­ject by the ex­pan­sion of gas or air.”

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