The difference between a toy gun and the real thing can be a moot point, as was demonstrated this week in California. A 13-year-old boy, Andy Lopez, was riddled with bullets by a veteran deputy of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office for carrying a toy assault rifle. Given a split-second to make a decision, the deputy with a couple of decades at the job under his belt shot eight times and inflicted seven bullet wounds on the boy. The deputy's rookie partner apparently didn't fire his weapon at all.
I wonder what the grieving family, the rookie cop...what the people of California will learn from the experience?
The brief story of the shooting, from the San Francisco Chronicle:
About 3 p.m. Tuesday, the deputy and a rookie deputy he was training spotted Andy walking on Moorland Avenue just west of Highway 101 with what appeared to be an assault rifle in his left hand, authorities said. The rookie deputy, who was driving, pulled behind Andy, who wore a blue hoodie and shorts.
According to the account from Santa Rosa police, both deputies got out of the car and took cover behind open doors. The veteran deputy twice shouted, "Put the gun down," before Andy turned to his right, authorities said.
The veteran deputy reported that he fired after fearing for his life because the rifle barrel was "rising up and turning in his direction," police said. At a news conference, officials displayed the replica rifle Andy carried - an air gun that shot plastic projectiles - alongside a real AK-47, saying the two looked similar.
The boy's parents, Rodrigo and Sujey Lopez, said they can't believe their 13-year-old son, Andy, is gone. They said he was walking in his neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, returning the toy rifle to a friend, when two sheriff's deputies tried to detain him.Possibly because at 13, he didn't realize what he was carrying could be mistaken for a gun and get him killed? I guess we'll never know. For the time being, I have mixed feelings about the shooting. It does seem hasty. But if the gun had been real, and the cops froze...I suppose we wouldn't be happy with that, either. In another article, the SF Chronicle spoke with a criminologist, Geoffrey Alpert.
"A witness in the area reported that he heard the deputy shout two times, 'Put the gun down, put the gun down,'" said Lt. Paul Henry of the Santa Rose Police Department.
Andy's father told CBS News' Carter Evans that Andy always "respected" cops and he doesn't know why he would not have listened.
"As long as an armed person appears to be a threat, you don't have time to look to see if it's a toy," Alpert said. "If it looks real, you've got to believe it's real. A perceived threat trumps age; it trumps mental abilities."There are reasons, of course, why the police could make such a mistake, if it can be called one; I'm still skeptical of that. But one big problem here is that the air gun was so indistinguishable from the real thing -- at a distance, in a split-second. The Chronicle also points out one recent attempt to rectify the issue.
Some legislators have sought to impose restrictions on replica guns in an effort to make sure police don't mistake them for real ones. California law requires "imitation weapons" to look like playthings by being brightly colored or transparent.So gun toy makers have more gravitas in the California legislature than the death of a teenager. And the worst part of this is that it's not even the first death people can point to, where a toy gun and trigger-happy cops come together to produce tragedy.
But a state senator's proposal in 2011 to extend that requirement to air guns failed after manufacturers and retailers opposed it. The proposal stemmed from an officer's shooting of a 13-year-old boy in Los Angeles who turned out to be carrying a pellet gun.
And yet, this also shows that it's already happened there; does any responsibility lie with the families who buy such toys for their children, knowing that it might just get them killed? Does it seem an acceptable, or minimal risk, until the cops roll up?
I suppose it's up to the people of California to choose what's more important. There's the profits of, not even gunmakers, but toy gun makers and sellers. Whether they should endure the hardship of having to produce toys that won't be mistaken for the real thing, less realistic toys that may not delight children quite as much. Or if the profit they enjoy is worth the occasional deaths of children.