Time for sensible regulation
The hail of gunfire stirred the busy Route 40 corridor on Tuesday morning. And it may be avoided in the future. After the hours of tense maneuvering around the Elkton crime scene that followed the shooting of two wanted Delaware suspects, the worst possible conclusion was reached: the guns that the suspects brandished weren’t actual- ly firearms.
Investigators found “two replica handguns next to the suspects. At this time, it is believed one is a BB pistol and the other is a compressed air-powered pellet or BB gun,” Maryland State Police officials reported.
We don’t second guess the actions of the troopers and deputies who arrived at the New Eastern Inn motel to arrest suspects wanted on drug and weapons charges. They knew to take precautions as the suspects were proven to have access to guns, including stolen
ones. The team approached the motel room with caution assuming them to be armed and issued orders when the suspects produced what appeared to be handguns.
If this was meant to be a peaceful resolution, the couple could have walked out with their hands up.
Unfortunately, they took a different route.
But even still, their deaths, and many others, could have been prevented with sensible legislation. While there is a federal law that requires toy guns to be marked in a way that indicates they’re fake, exemptions allow the public to own and carry realistic-looking BB guns and Airsoft guns.
The law requires toys to be marked with orange on its muzzle or body, or to be transparent or entirely bright in color. But the problem is that such protections can easily be removed by the owner or painted over.
In 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by police in Cleveland after he was carrying what turned out to be an AirSoft pistol, a realistic-looking gun that shoots pellets through compressed gas or other methods. His gun originally came with a marking but it had reportedly been removed.
According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, 28 people with BB guns were shot and killed by police in 2015 alone nationwide.
So what are we to do about this disguised threat?
A bill proposed by a Baltimore delegate last year tried to bar the sale, possession or use of so-called “imitation firearms” in Maryland, imposing a $1,000 fine and up to a year in prison for any violation. It didn’t survive the General Assembly after it was opposed by the National Rifle Association on the grounds that such weapons are training tools for pro-gun families. It’s expected to be brought back next session.
On the local level, the Charles County NAACP branch intends to introduce a law in the General Assembly next session that keeps BB guns and lookalike weapons out of the hands of children, as well as awareness training for officers to better identify lookalike weapons from actual guns. But is an outright ban the way to go? The Imitation Firearms Safety Act was enacted in California last year, banning pellet and BB guns unless they are painted in bright colors, allowing authorities to quickly tell them apart from real firearms. Major cities like Washington, New York and Chicago also have similar regulations.
Such sensible legislation should be passed at the federal level, requiring all non-firearms to be bright colors to decrease the number of fatal incidents with police.
Law enforcement officers only have a few seconds to decide how to respond to a threat, so if we can help them assess a situation a few seconds faster, don’t we owe it to them to do so?