Toy Guns – Technology, Laws and Common Sense
The death of Andy Lopez, a 13-year-old Santa Rosa kid with a toy gun in hand was tragic. He failed to follow police commands and was shot for possessing what the officer believed was an AK – 47. Andy Lopez went to the park to play with his friends from the neighborhood. He is now dead – because he was carrying a toy gun.
The reality of this problem is far too many kids get their education on guns from Hollywood. They depict massively irresponsible and unrealistic uses of firearms. In the absence of real education, these kids know nothing else. The reality is toy guns provide a great way to educate even very young kids on safety, but toy guns should not be treated like other toys. You can read more on teaching kids to shoot here.
The Officer involved in the shooting was Erick Gelhaus, a 23-year veteran of the police force. He has served in the military reserves, and is an instructor with Gun Site Academy. He had not shot a suspect in more than 20 years on the job. By all reports, he exhibits exceptional professional judgment. He is more experienced, better trained and more qualified than 99% of the officers on the street. In hindsight he got it wrong, but you can only judge him by what he knew at the moment. Everything I have seen indicates he did exactly what he should have done, making this incident all the more tragic.
The danger of toy guns
If your son or daughter confronts a law enforcement officer with many of the toy guns on the market, your child is in danger. That cop and/or any trained person – will not be able to tell the difference until they are right on top him or her, if even then. By that point it may be too late. If Erick Gelhaus could not make an accurate determination, there is no level of officer training that can be applied to enable officers to make those determinations effectively. If an armed person with a gun poses a threat, police must respond as Erick did. Officer training is not the answer to this problem.
We have had several deaths and near shootings of children with toy guns by law enforcement officers in the past years (and probably hundreds more close calls than have made the national news). Erick is not the only officer struggling with his decision, and Andy’s family is unfortunately not the only family struggling their loss. So how do we prevent it?
Technology – A partial solution
There are a number of less than lethal use of force options for police officers today. Unfortunately they all force the officer to make a predetermined choice to apply lethal or non-lethal force. If the situation changes, and they have nothing but beanbag rounds in the shotgun, they are now at risk.
I was recently exposed to “the alternative” by Alternative Ballistics. While this device holds promise, it is not the answer. This device gives the officer the option of attaching a golf ball sized device to the front of his weapon, which catches the bullet and propels a technically non-lethal aluminum golf ball down range. The impact of that device is sufficient to cause all but the most dedicated and committed opponent to loosen their grip on whatever they are holding. The great part of this solution is that once the gun is fired, the device falls away. The gun cycles like normal and is now ready to fire the bullets in the magazine.
I am confident Erick and many other law enforcement officers would part with many things dear to them to have had the alternative available to them. The reality is, there will still be cases where the officer does not have time to apply the alternative and must shoot to stop the threat posed by an armed suspect. And invariably, there will be mistakes. While this is most likely going to lessen the incidences of deaths, it will not stop them.
The “New Law” solution to toy guns
Predictably, New York is attempting to ban anything resembling a gun from the state. California is of course following suit with “New Laws” that some claim will solve the problem. Requiring toys to be brightly colored is the answer according to state senator Kevin DeLeon of Los Angeles. It is ludicrous to think that criminals will not instantly take advantage of this law. It will work great until criminals manage to get a hold of a can of orange spray paint. This will seem foolish when they subsequently shoot up a grocery store with what looks like toy guns. Or until a kid who paints his toy gun black is shot, because he wanted his toy to look more realistic.
This waste of taxpayer money is simply a knee jerk reaction to a bad situation. Unfortunately this law will do nothing to improve public safety. Further more, it will attempt to paint toy guns as the problem – which is the real issue in all of this. The toy gun is not the problem, the officer is not the problem and the kid is not the problem. The kid not having even a rudimentary education in gun safety is the problem.
Education and personal responsibility are the solution
The sheer volume of both real and toy guns on the market in America is staggering! The lack of firearms safety programs in our nations schools and homes is the cause of incidents like this. Laws preventing that education are due to the fearful ignorance of the Michael Bloomberg’s and the Kevin Deleon’s of our nation. They are not bad men, but their ignorance is placing our children at risk and costing about 250 children their lives annually. The anti-education laws with grossly inappropriate names like “Gun Free Zones” or the “SAFE” act are examples of just how far extremist ideologues are willing to push an agenda that is clearly costing the lives of children in this country.
The Eddie Eagle program produced by the NRA is a great start, regardless of your political affiliation and opinion of the NRA. It teaches kids what to do at the very basic level. Stop, don’t touch it, and get an adult. We can probably save many of those 250 lives annually by simply introducing this into grade schools at the beginning of each year. Simple, produced in mass quantities and on the shelf today. We could start tomorrow in federal schools if an executive order were issued to that effect…
Lastly, your children’s education is ultimately your responsibility. When it comes to guns, you can do it – or you can let Hollywood do it. Had someone bothered to explain basic gun safety to Andy Lopez he would have understood their destructive capacity. He would most likely have complied with Erick’s instructions, and both would be better off today. If you are buying your child a toy gun for Christmas this year, please re-read Teaching Kids to Shoot, order the Eddie Eagle CD, and give them some basic safety education. Guns are a part of America, and we can do much better than this for our children!
Have a great holiday season and Merry Christmas!
~ Patrick Henry