Friday, August 11, 2006

Jacquielynn Floyd: Real guns should be the real concern (opposing view of ban on Airsoft Guns in Texas)

Once the City Council enacts its strict new fake-firearm ban, I confidently predict we can expect the number of Dallas children accidentally shot by police in tragic toy gun misunderstandings to drop to zero. The number currently stands at ... well, zero.

As long as we're going after faux weaponry, we might as well broaden the measure to include plastic swords, phony hand grenades and big fake rocks, because just one replica-weapon tragedy is one too many.

The City Council's public-safety committee eagerly embraced this idea on Tuesday, directing the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would ban most toy guns, except those made of transparent plastic or painted in vivid, iridescent colors.

This is a decent, popular and well-intended measure modeled on similar bans in Plano, Carrollton and a dozen other cities across the country.

Typically, residents and city officials are stunned speechless when they see how alarmingly close "toy" firearms have gotten to the bona fide article.

The fear is fueled by breathless, golly-gee news accounts that show photos of, say, a fake but extremely realistic M-16 assault rifle alongside the real McCoy. In the dark, how could a policeman tell the difference?

Look, I know this is scary. I know it's easy to imagine a tragic misunderstanding in which a police officer sees somebody brandishing what gives every appearance of being a real gun – and does what he or she is trained to do.

There was a frightening incident in Coppell a couple of years ago when a policeman saw a 12-year-old boy running down a residential street with what looked like a 9mm handgun.

The cop pulled his service revolver and ordered the boy to "drop it." The terrified kid did so, then burst into tears. He was carrying an "airsoft" gun, a replica that shoots soft Nerf-like nuggets.

Scary? You bet. There has been a smattering of similar cases, some of which ended tragically. In 2001, Las Vegas police shot a 16-year-old who pointed a fake handgun at an officer after being stopped in a stolen car. In another case, a Florida teenager was killed when he pointed a realistic looking replica rifle at a deputy.

The number of such cases, however, is statistically invisible when compared with the appalling numbers of children who kill themselves or somebody else with a real, live gun that shoots real bullets.

That happens with numbing, depressing frequency. It happens here in Dallas and in neighboring cities. In many years of beat reporting, I was at the scene of at least a half-dozen incidents in which a child died as a result of playing with a gun.

A little boy in East Dallas killed his 2-year-old sister with a handgun he found in Mama's purse. A grade-schooler in Arlington shot himself in the face with a revolver he discovered under the seat of Dad's SUV.

Those are just a couple I recall offhand. I could pull you a dozen others from the files, but do you really have to hear all these sad stories?

Our City Council said the same thing many other councils said in banning realistic toy guns: "These are a tragedy waiting to happen!"

I guess, although a 2003 report delivered by the General Accounting Office to Congress outlining hazards associated with toy guns identified choking on small parts as the chief threat. Accidental police shootings weren't even mentioned.

There's nothing wrong with the council's proposed ban. On the plus side, it'll make a lot of people worried about this issue happy; on the minus side, it'll probably be a pretty big headache to enforce.

It certainly seems like an irrelevant diversion, however, when considered alongside the lethal combination of children and real guns.

I understand there are tougher and far more politically sensitive issues at play when you start talking about the real article. It's a fairly absurd irony that it's so easy to curtail access to toy guns, but we're afraid to even talk about guns that can actually kill people.

Maybe kids and toy guns really are "a tragedy waiting to happen."

Kids and real guns are a tragedy that happens all the time.
(Click on link for full article)

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