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Police notice an uptick in replica firearms

September 19, 2016  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Police notice an uptick in replica firearms

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Police have noticed an uptick in replica firearms used in the commission of crimes and are indistinguishable from real guns, which is one reason why some perpetrators tend to use them, along with their cheap cost and accessibility.

Ohio authorities are currently investigating the deadly police shooting of a 13-year-old who officers said drew a realistic-looking BB gun from his pants, and law enforcement departments are having trouble distinguishing the use of fake guns to commit very legitimate offenses.

“If I can’t go get a real gun, it’s easier for me to waltz into Wal-Mart or whatever store sells these things and go get a replica. Because if I go to a store to hold it up, the guy behind the counter isn’t going to know it’s not real,” said Geoffrey Alpert, who teaches criminal justice at the University of South Carolina.

Although the government does not monitor offenders’ use of replica or toy guns, some departments have noticed an uptick.

In Edmonton, Canada, law enforcement officials reported that replica firearms were connected to 1,598 incidents in 2015, which is a 38% increase from 2014.

Suspects in Arlington, Texas are frequently using fake guns, including an occurrence in early 2015 in which a man carjacked a woman using an air gun that mirrored a real pistol, along with another case involving a teenager who threatened a cop with an imitation gun. The police officer succeeded in knocking it out of the teen’s hand and then tackled` him.

Lieutenant Christopher Cook, of the Arlington police department, stated that between March and August of this year, almost 20% of the firearms confiscated by police after they were used in crimes turned out to be fakes.

Police haven’t been forced to use lethal measures yet, but Cook noted that that could change at any point.

“There’s no training in the world that we know of where an officer can readily distinguish a real gun from a fake gun,” said Cook. “That’s not realistic because officers have to make split-second decisions to ascertain whether it’s a firearm or not.”

An imitation weapon is at the forefront of last week’s fatal police shooting of Tyre King in Ohio.

An officer who was dispatched to a report of a $10 armed robbery shot and killed the teenager after he drew a BB gun that seemed “practically identical” to the weapon that cops use, according to Columbus police.

A 19-year-old who said he was the victim’s friend told a local newspaper that Tyre had a real-looking BB gun, and was out to burglarize someone and fled from authorities. However, an attorney for Tyre’s family has requested an independent investigation, citing that his relatives believe that the boy’s involvement in an armed robbery would be “out of character” and the police’s account of what happened “might not be true.”

After a wave of high-profile police shootings of suspects with toy or lookalike guns in the late 1980s, Congress commissioned a study that discovered that thousands of robberies and assaults between 1985 and 1989 were committed with fake weapons. The study also discovered that over 250 cases were documented in which a cop used force — lethal or otherwise — on a suspect displaying an imitation gun.

The Associated Press found more recently that a minimum of 25 deaths have been identified that included the involvement of lookalike guns, which were mistaken by police for actual firearms. One of the incidents stemmed from the 1994 killing of a 13-year-old New York City boy by a housing police officer.

Allentown, Pennsylvania Police Captain Richard London stated: “It’s horrible, it’s horrible when these kids are displaying these replica firearms, and a life is lost, and after the fact, it turns out it’s not real,”

He also noted that it could be next to impossible to tell an imitation gun from a real firearm that shoots bullets.

“It’s human nature to defend yourself in the face of that,” he continued.

A minimum of 12 states including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. have laws regulating the sale and use of imitation guns, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, although many towns and cities have their own policies on lookalike guns.

Federal law dictates that replica firearms should have orange plugs placed in the barrel to differentiate them from real guns. However, the tips are easily discarded, and experts question their effectiveness.

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