Skip to main content

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.

Screen capture of CBS News video
Screen cap of police press conference
I know which one's the toy air gun, from researching the shooting. I doubt I would know, otherwise. The picture above is from a police press conference, a screen cap from a video posted by CBS. They also report on some witnesses who didn't recognize a 13-year-old boy when they see one, who thought they saw a weapon, and heard the police shout a warning twice before Andy Lopez turned and they shot him.
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.

"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.

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.
"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.

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.

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.

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.

Originally posted to The Tytalan Way on Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 11:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Support the Dream Defenders, Shut Down the NRA, Repeal or Amend the Second Amendment (RASA), and Firearms Law and Policy.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site