City ban on replica guns gets ini­tial OK

Mea­sure passed by coun­cil pro­hibits the pos­ses­sion of re­al­is­tic toys

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Broad­wa­ter and Yvonne Wenger

The Baltimore City Coun­cil gave pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval Mon­day to a city­wide ban on toy guns that look like work­ing hand­guns and ri­fles.

Coun­cil mem­bers in­tro­duced the leg­is­la­tion after a 14-year-old East Baltimore boy hold­ing a BB gun was shot by a city po­lice de­tec­tive in April.

City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young said replica guns are con­tribut­ing to vi­o­lence on Baltimore’s streets. He said peo­ple are us­ing the fake weapons in rob­beries, and chil­dren who carry them are put in harm’s way.

There have been more than 800 shoot­ings this year in Baltimore, which is on pace to pass 300 homi­cides for a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year.

“It’s some­thing that we should do for the safety of our chil­dren,” Young said. “We’re get­ting stores robbed with repli­cas. We’ve got peo­ple run­ning around with these things and they al­most look real. ... I don’t think we should be al­low­ing replica guns in the city of Baltimore, es­pe­cially with the mur­der rate we have.”

A po­lice de­tec­tive in East Baltimore shot and wounded 14-year-old Dedric Colvin in the shoul­der and leg in April.

Po­lice said the boy was car­ry­ing a spring-air-pow­ered BB gun that re­sem­bled a semi­au­to­matic pis­tol. He sur­vived the shoot­ing.

Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis called the Daisy brand Pow­erLine Model 340 spring-air pis­tol that Dedric was car­ry­ing an “ab­so­lute, iden­ti­cal replica semi­au­to­matic pis­tol.”

City Coun­cil­man James B. Kraft in­tro­duced the pro­posed ban. He said

the “eas­i­est way to re­solve this is to get the replica guns off the streets.”

Un­der the leg­is­la­tion, own­ing, car­ry­ing or other­wise pos­sess­ing a replica that could “rea­son­ably be per­ceived to be a real firearm” could re­sult in a $250 fine for a first of­fense. Fines would rise to $1,000 for sec­ond and sub­se­quent of­fenses.

The coun­cil voted unan­i­mously Mon­day, with­out dis­cus­sion, to al­low a fi­nal vote on Kraft’s bill. The bill is ex­pected to pass by De­cem­ber.

“These replica guns are not toys,” Kraft said. “They look ex­actly like real guns, and un­less you are stand­ing there hold­ing them in your hands you can­not tell the dif­fer­ence. We need to get them off the streets.

“The fewer guns we have on the streets, real or replica, the safer it is.”

Gun-rights ad­vo­cates op­posed the bill.

Mark W. Pen­nak, pres­i­dent of Mary­land Shall Is­sue Inc., wrote to the coun­cil that the leg­is­la­tion is “hope­lessly vague” and vi­o­lates fed­eral law, which pro­hibits states from ban­ning the sale of some replica firearms.

The city law depart­ment notes that Kraft’s bill pro­hibits pos­ses­sion of the replica guns, not their sale, and ar­gues it is there­fore le­gal.

Pen­nak wrote that the leg­is­la­tion would “cre­ate a whole new class of crim­i­nals in the City of Baltimore for the mere home pos­ses­sion by en­tire fam­i­lies of other­wise per­fectly le­gal toys!”

“There are bet­ter ways to ad­dress the un­der­ly­ing con­cerns with­out flout­ing fed­eral law and with­out sub­ject­ing the cit­i­zens of the City to dis­crim­i­na­tory ar­rests and pros­e­cu­tions for vi­o­la­tions of a vague law,” he wrote.

Kraft said the bill was amended to re­spond to con­cerns of the National Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and firearms in­struc­tors. Un­der the re­vised leg­is­la­tion, repli­cas can be used for train­ing pur­poses by cer­ti­fied in­struc­tors and in cer­tain com­pe­ti­tions.

An­tique replica guns are not pro­hib­ited. Kraft said repli­cas also are al­lowed for the­atri­cal pro­duc­tions.

“If you have a replica gun and you’re us­ing it at Cen­ter Stage, then you can use the replica gun,” he said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake sup­ports the ban, her spokesman said.

“Mayor Rawl­ings-Blake has ev­ery in­ten­tion of sign­ing the leg­is­la­tion when it reaches her desk,” spokesman An­thony Mc­Carthy said.

“Her in­ter­est is in en­sur­ing that we ed­u­cate the public of the po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous con­se­quences of put­ting replica guns in the hands of our chil­dren.”

The Baltimore bill fol­lows sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion in New York, Chicago and Wash­ing­ton.

Dedric Colvin’s shoot­ing came amid a se­ries of vi­o­lent en­coun­ters na­tion­wide in­volv­ing re­al­is­tic-look­ing toy guns. Po­lice in Colum­bus, Ohio, shot and killed 13-yearold Tyre King after he al­legedly pulled out a BB gun with a laser sight.

The po­lice shoot­ing death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a public park in Cleve­land in 2014 drew national at­ten­tion. Video footage showed the boy hold­ing 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 way po­lice of­fi­cers — and oth­ers — view black youths. Many have ar­gued that black chil­dren play­ing with BB guns are per­ceived as threats in a way white chil­dren are not.

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

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

The Baltimore Po­lice Depart­ment sub­mit­ted tes­ti­mony sup­port­ing the leg­is­la­tion. An­drew G. Vet­ter, the chief of staff of the depart­ment, wrote that it’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for of­fi­cers to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween real firearms and replica guns when mak­ing quick de­ci­sions.

“There are a plethora of replica guns on the market in­ten­tion­ally de­signed to look as real as pos­si­ble,” he wrote.

Vet­ter wrote that replica guns are “fre­quently be­ing used in street rob­beries” in Baltimore.

“The wide­spread avail­abil­ity of re­al­look­ing and in­ex­pen­sive replica guns trans­lates to an eas­ily-ac­ces­si­ble street rob­bery tool,” he wrote.

Gun-rights ad­vo­cates and paint­ball fa­cil­ity op­er­a­tors suc­cess­fully op­posed a statewide ban of replica guns pro­posed in An­napo­lis this year.

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

“The fewer guns we have on the streets, real or replica, the safer.”

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