Time for sen­si­ble reg­u­la­tion

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

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?

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