California Pols Blame BB Guns, Not Militarized Cops

SACRAMENTO — One of last year’s heartbreaking stories involved 13-year-old Andy Lopez, who was shot to death by a Sonoma County deputy sheriff in October after the deputy spotted him carrying a realistic-looking pellet gun. Deputy Erick Gelhaus said he called on Lopez to drop the gun, and shot him seven times as the boy turned toward the officer with the barrel of the gun rising.

The shooting continues to spark discussions about the proper use of force by police officers — especially after Lopez’s parents filed a lawsuit alleging that county officials “were long aware of the propensity of defendant Gelhaus to recklessly draw his firearm and to use excessive force.”

Given the high-profile nature of the Lopez case, one would expect the legislature to weigh in, especially given a number of other recent and troubling use-of-force incidents. But as often happens, legislators have come up with a “solution” that skirts the main issue. Legislators from both parties had different takes on the bill during an assembly debate, but both viewpoints seemed equally off the mark.

Senators passed SB 199 on a 23-8 vote. Authored by Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, the bill avoids discussion of the deadly force issue, but instead would ban the type of toy weapon Lopez was holding. This seems to epitomize the legislature’s approach to complex problems that involve firearms.

“This bill prohibits the sale of BB devices in California unless the entire exterior surface of the device is brightly colored or the device is transparent, as specified,” according to the Senate analysis. The bill would include BB and pellet guns in the definition of imitation firearms, which under current law may not be publicly displayed.

Democratic senators argued that the proliferation of toy guns puts people at risk. “A toy should look like a toy,” said Sen. Noreen Evans, who represents the Santa Rosa area where Lopez lived. “A toy should not get a child killed.” She said that Lopez would still be alive today had this proposed bill already been law. De Leon asserted that realistic-looking guns don’t belong on the streets.

In response, Republicans argued that violent gang members can paint their real weapons bright colors, which can endanger officers who think they are dealing with a toy. Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, said many real weapons already look like toys. So instead of clarifying matters, this can confuse them. If an officer sees a colored weapon, he can’t assume with certainty that it’s a toy.

Nor will an officer be able to assume that a non-colored gun is a real one. Not every kid will get the “memo,” if the bill passes. There will still be those who tote realistic-looking pellet guns they already own. Will this increase the danger they face?

Perhaps the real problem is the current rules of engagement, in which police officials sometimes feel justified in opening fire if they think the toy is a real gun. There’s little dispute that Lopez was walking down the street minding his own business. Gelhaus’ attorney said the deputy believed the toy was a real AK-47. But witnesses have given varying accounts, with some alleging that the boy was never given a chance to drop the rifle.

Gelhaus has served as a training officer for the department. That touches on a key question: How are police officers taught to react in such a situation? It’s not as if Santa Rosa (or most other California cities) is filled with AK-47-toting thugs who routinely open fire on police officers. It happens, but not nearly as often as incidents of kids playing with or carrying BB guns. Isn’t it reasonable to wonder whether official policy mainly is to blame here?

Some of the most troubling recent police use-of-force issues have taken place where the victim had no weapon, real or make-believe. Granted, police officials aren’t eager to open to legislative debate the broader issue of use of force policies, but that has a higher chance of hitting the right target than yet another plan to restrict another inanimate object.

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  • The Late P Brooks||

    as the boy turned toward the officer with the barrel of the gun rising.

    With muzzle discipline like that, that kid could have grown up to be on a SWAT team.

  • anon||

    If the cop was black he might've even qualified for LAPD!

  • WTF||

    as the boy turned toward the officer with the barrel of the gun rising

    In other words, the cop shot the kid in the back.

  • Zeb||

    Why the hell do we still have PEZ dispensers but no PEZ shooting guns?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    How are police officers taught to react in such a situation?

    Shoot first, fabricate evidence later.

    duh

  • iEagleHammer||

    Bingo!

    Our protectors couldn't possibly be at fault.

  • anon||

    If you can't handle a 13 year old kid as a cop without using deadly force, you might be the problem and not the solution.

    By the time you draw and fire you could've either taken cover or snatched that shit out of the kid's hand.

    Bit on-topic: I know an ex-sheriff around these parts that was serving a warrant on some dipshit. Said dipshit drew and aimed at the sheriff; sheriff said "Boy, you don't wanna ruin your life like that. If you kill me you're gonna go away for a lot longer than this bullshit. Put it away and lets go down to the jail and sort this all out."

    Dipshit recognized the truth to the Sheriff's words and disarmed. And there weren't even any dogs shot!

  • ||

    My uncle rented a beachfront condo for a family gathering in the late 70s (dating myself here). The owner's son was playing in the front yard with a BB-gun. When my uncle, brother, and I pulled out in my uncle's car, the kid jumped in the driveway and pointed the gun at the car. My uncle immediately slammed on the breaks, jumped out of the car, bent the kid over his knee and spanked him profusely. When we got back, the landlord and an officer were waiting. The landlord threw a holy fit that my uncle had tanned his son's backside. When the officer calmed the landlord down, my uncle turned to me and said, "What did you boys learn?" We answered, "Don't point guns at people."

    The officer spoke to the landlord and left without issuing charges or citations and the landlord let us stay the week provided we didn't return.

    Damn find police work, IMO.

  • coldguy||

    I doubt any cop, no matter how excitable, wants to shoot kids.

    If a gun is pointed in your direction, just how long do you have to decide if its a toy or not? Muzzle velocity from an AK-47 is 2336 fps. Does that give you enough time?

    An AK-47 in anyone's hands is a deadly weapon. How many times have we heard the gun grabbers cry because a toddler shot themselves or a family member with an un-secured firearm?

    The fault is with parents who let their kids play with guns (real or toys) without teaching the responsibility that goes with them. I doubt those parents would let their 13 year old drive their car. But sure, here's an airsoft replica machine gun, go run around in public and shoot your friends.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    derp

  • ||

    If you wait until the gun is pointed at you to decide if you're going to return fire, take cover, or stand there like an idiot, you're not doing it right.

  • Mr.Krinkle||

    "The fault is with the parents who let their kids play with guns..."

    Did you read the same article I did? Or is your default position to always take the police report at face value?

  • SIV||

    but both viewpoints seemed equally off the mark

    Cosmotarian much?

    Cali Dem legislators want a stupid law requiring BB/pellet (I assume actually airsoft*) to be brightly colored or clear. Republican legislators don't want the law. That is "equally off the mark"?

    (*I hope the legislation isn't so dumb as to require actual lead and steel-slinging airguns to look like toys but it is California)

  • anon||

    HAHAHAHA! You're so very misguided if you think California would allow lead in anything.

  • NealAppeal||

    As long as there are moar labelz then lead is okay.

  • DWC||

    I'm surprised that CA has not banned lead containing ammo (which is virtually all of it) as a way to disarm the citizenry.

  • gimmeasammich||

  • gimmeasammich||

    Since we are talking about lead, how about the Lincoln Park Gun Club in Chicago. It was shut down because the shooters were "polluting the lake and surrounding environment." Approximately 500 tons of lead was recovered, and the EPA report found NO effects on the surrounding area. Was it about lead, or was it really about a complete hatred of firearms?

    http://ephemera.typepad.com/ep.....entur.html

  • CampingInYourPark||

    How about brightly some colored circles on sweaters for when people use those finger guns?

  • anon||

    Has Cali banned Target stores yet?

  • Cliché Bandit||

    seriously though, Who is the marketing genius who thought up that logo. It BEGS for inner city/rural country gunslingers to demolish it. Just like when you go to a state park that has a sign NO Shooting...that sign is always riddled with holes.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Eventually REAL guns will look like toys. Why not be armed with the latest fashionable colors?

  • WTF||

    They do make Hello Kitty AR-15s.

  • Floridian||

    I think that one was all custom. My wife saw that and wanted one. She got a FDE one instead.

  • LarryA||

    Cali Dem legislators want a stupid law requiring BB/pellet (I assume actually airsoft*) to be brightly colored or clear. Republican legislators don't want the law. That is "equally off the mark"?

    I read that the Rs were off the mark for suggesting gang-bangers would paint their real guns pink.

  • Nazdrakke||

    Why, at this point, does anyone not aspiring to live in a police state still remain in CA? Is it mass delusion that things will someday get better after riding out the derpstorm? The weather there isn't that good.

  • anon||

    Why, at this point, does anyone not aspiring to live in a police state still remain in CA?

    Free shit for Me paid for by Thee is my guess.

  • Nazdrakke||

    I mean the people not using the threat of violence to obtain other people's stuff for themselves or their pets. I mean, I live in Portland, OR, of all places and I'm still stunned by what comes out of CA.

  • Zeb||

    I think that for a lot of people the weather and other aspects of the environment is worth it.

  • Curtisls87||

    If my daughters and their families were not here, I would leave. I desire to be near my grandchildren, so I stay. Mine is only one of the stories in the Naked State.

  • junyo||

    Having just gotten back to the east coast after a month in LA, not freezing your nuts off for one. When it dipped down to 50 deg they were all whining about how cold it was. And going to the beach on a 70 degree 'winter' day is kinda awesome. The fact that you can go skiing the same day you went to the beach. Basically legalized pot. The artistic opportunities presented the confluence of the film and porn industries, and the people feeding those machines.

    For the average center left voter, who doesn't employ people, or own much property, and has already adjusted to the size of the tax buttplug, and thinks the gun on the staircase scene in 'True Lies' is an accurate depiction of how guns work, California has the best weather of any of the other socialist hellholes you are likely to consider livable (i.e. not surrounded by red-staters like me).

  • SIV||

    Greenhut should get his walking papers for this trash article.
    Opposing ridiculous, ineffective "do something" legislation is as "equally off the mark" as trying to pass it?

  • Nazdrakke||

    Cocktail parties, mate, sheesh.

  • SugarFree||

    Neither of them want to do anything about trigger happy cops. That's why they are both equally off the mark.

  • SIV||

    RTFL

    They are debating a gun/"product safety" law, not a police use of force law.

  • SugarFree||

    Sorry, I'll translate my comment for you:

    Cosmocosmocosmo. COSMOTARIAN!cosmotarian. Tarian? Cosmo, cosmo, cosmo. Tar-tar-tarian. COSMO!

  • JW||

    SIV illustrates for us why you should never look directly into the light.

  • Will Nonya||

    I thought it was never cross the streams?

  • Calidissident||

    That's the entire fucking point. They're ignoring the real issue.

  • WTF||

    Good point. When I was a kid, we used to run all over our neighborhood having 'shootouts' with very realistic looking revolvers and rifles, and no one ever got confronted by a cop.
    I wonder what's changed?

  • CampingInYourPark||

    The left went ape shit about guns and expect cops to protect them from any perceived harm from them, no matter the circumstances?

    Around here kids hunt with real guns almost all year long. Why aren't they getting mowed down by trigger happy LEO's too? Because the people here don't go into histrionics about GUNZZZZZ!

  • WTF||

    Yeah, that's another thing. When I was in High School we used to bring our shotguns with us during hunting season and leave them in our cars so we could go hunting after school, and nobody cared. And this was in New Jersey.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    Christ you must be what, 135 years old now?

  • Eggs Benedict Cumberbund||

    Same here. I was in HS in the mid-late 70's at a private school in Lower Alabama. On any given day there were probably 10-15 pick ups with some sort of deer rifle on in the rack or maybe a shot gun in dove or turkey season.

  • JW||

    When I was a kid, we used to run all over our neighborhood having 'shootouts' with very realistic looking revolvers and rifles

    When the cops shoot you to death, I hope you'll learn your lesson.

  • OneOut||

    The War on Drugs.

  • SIV||

    The DA responsible for bringing any charges against the cop is testifying in favor of the BB gun ban (rather than filing charges and presenting a case before the grand jury):

    “By passing this bill, we improve public safety. It’s that easy,” Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch testified at Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate’s Public Safety Committee.

    How is it "equally off the mark" to oppose it?

  • Robert||

    How do you know neither of them want to do anything about trigger happy cops?

    "I see you wearing one of the sweaters I gave you. What's the matter, didn't you like the other one?"

  • SugarFree||

    Because a) the Democrats proposed this silly law instead and b)the Republicans could have opposed the law on the basis of restraining the police, but instead came up with an even sillier fantasy that all the gangbangers would paint their guns pink to get the drop on our brave boys in blue.

  • SIV||

    So there is a drought resulting in a poor harvest and the common people are upset with their rulers. The Priests propose sacrificing all the virgins to ensure a bountiful harvest next year. The temple-builders object "killing virgins is wrong,it never appeases the rain gods and we're running low after the Sun was blocked by the moon at midday last year".

    Both are equally off the mark because they didn't propose digging irrigation canals.

  • seguin||

    I'd like to see a modern Robocop along these lines. A ruthless cyborg killbot executing children and puppies to make our street safe.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Poor SIV. It must be hell, having to read all this crazy cosmotarian propaganda at gunpoint.

    Do they tie you to your chair and make you wear a diaper, too?

  • SKR||

    I'm pretty sure those damn squirrels don't think my pellet gun is a toy.

  • Snark Plissken||

    Here's a small anti-nutpunch. Czech cop rescues ten-year-old girl trying to take a shortcut across icy lake.

  • William O. B'Livion||

    How is this a problem of "militarized cops"? Was Lopez shot 40 times with a fully automatic weapon?

    Was he shot by a SWAT Team?

    I'm vehemently opposed to "militarized" police and to a police state. I'm extremely distressed by the us against them attitude that police have, and it's getting worse.

    And I'm sorry as hell that the Lopez kid got shot and killed.

    But this wasn't "Militarization" of the police, this was, to be brutal, stupid parents poorly raising their child.

    One simply DOES NOT wander around even a minor metropolitan area with something that is visually indistinguishable from an AK[1]. What the * was that kid thinking? Playing cops and robbers in the back yard or an abandoned lot is one thing. Walking down the street? Are you STUPID? 13 years old. Yes, stupid. But so were the parents, they did not raise their child to be aware of the consequences of his actions.

    [1] Yes, there are some visual clues that it's not a "real" ak, but there is also a considerable amount of variation in AKs, and expecting a sheriff in a smaller town to recognize that it's NOT because the charging handle looks wrong is a little stupid.

  • JW||

    But this wasn't "Militarization" of the police, this was, to be brutal, stupid parents poorly raising their child.

    Damn straight.

    Wait, you didn't mean the cop? FUCK YOU.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    But so were the parents, they did not raise their child to be aware of the consequences of his actions.

    You make a some valid points, but are you suggesting that the consequence of having a toy gun in the "wrong place" = death?

  • Jordan||

    How is this a problem of "militarized cops"?

    I think the "siege" mentality that seems to be widespread among police officers almost certainly contributed to this. How likely do you think it is that a 13 year old is just going to casually walk around the streets wielding an AK?

  • Robert||

    One simply DOES NOT wander around even a minor metropolitan area with something that is visually indistinguishable from an AK[1].


    Open carry = summary death?

  • Will Nonya||

    Militarized tactics and mindset are deadly as militarized weapons.

  • CatoTheElder||

    This is one case where I can sympathize with the cop. The AirSoft guns are very realistic replicas of actual firearms. My kid had an AirSoft AK-47. It was a few inches shorter than an actual AK, but from a few yards away one couldn't tell the difference. I didn't mind him getting in AirSoft battles with his clear plastic AirSoft gun in the neighborhood, which was obviously a toy, but wouldn't let him use the AK outside of our backyard. And it was precisely because I was afraid some cop would mistake it for a real firearm.

  • JW||

    I can sympathize with him mistaking it for the real thing. What I can't sympathize with is his pants-shitting cowardice and shooting before any real threat presented itself.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Why was he confronting someone he thought was armed in a manner that would allow himself to be shot at in the first place?

  • Invisible Finger||

    ^This

  • Sigivald||

    Was he supposed to call in a sniper?

    It's a cop's job to deal with possibly dangerous, armed people.

    I can't think of a way to deal with someone who has what-looks-like-an-AK without either being too far away to talk to them or being at risk of being shot.

    Can you explain what alternative you're thinking of here?

  • ||

    Was he supposed to call in a sniper?

    Yes. The sniper may've actually had the restraint and level-headedness not to shoot an unarmed child. At any rate, the sniper wouldn't fire unnecessarily and a sharpshooter would take the time to confirm the threat.

    I can't think of a way to deal with someone who has what-looks-like-an-AK without either being too far away to talk to them or being at risk of being shot.

    It's funny, I always hear stories about confirming a gun is unloaded before you clean it so you don't shoot yourself or someone else. I never thought to warn friends, neighbors, that I might be cleaning toys that look like guns so they don't shoot me.

    Do you cower in fear in Toys 'R Us? How about places that sell actual pellet guns or markers? Don't go within 1000 yds. of any place that sells actual firearms, right?

    Can you explain what alternative you're thinking of here?

    Hmm... NATO ROE Manual MC 362-1? Or any one of a dozens of continuum of force policies?

    You act like this was an active shooter situation or that the officer was called onto the scene of a disturbance or that even an armed, malicious, 13 yr. old (whom the officer had the drop on) is a formidable opponent for a trained and seasoned officer of the law.

  • NealAppeal||

    When cellphones and bags of skittles look like guns to some what can you possibly do to help half-wits recognize the difference?

  • Will Nonya||

    If you allowed a public opinion poll asking whether people would rather see more kids shot or more cops shot what do you think their answer would be?

    No matter what though politicians can't allow the use of force argument to go forward until they're ready to take on police unions and related advocacy groups.

  • Phil Ossiferz Stone||

    In the mid-90's I bought a Swedish Mauser at Big Five sporting goods and walked the three blocks home to my apartment with it. This was in Sunnyvale, CA, right smack in the heart of Silicon Valley. I felt conspicuous as hell, but I knew open carry was the law and so did everybody else.

    Now I'd have to wait ten days to pick it up, have the thing specially registered with the California DOJ (presumably so in the event of an emergency they can kick my door in and disarm me, a la New Awlins after Katrina), and very likely be gunned down by a trigger happy cop like Andy Lopez.

    Think about that for a minute: We went from open carry one year to state-sanctioned Judge Dredd child murder the next. And nobody cares -- well, except for the Lopez family.

    That's progressivism for you. It's nothing more than creeping fascism. And there are a frightening number of blue-state Good Germans out there.

  • Sigivald||

    "Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, said many real weapons already look like toys."

    I'd love to know what "real weapons" he's thinking of.

    Because while I think various guns look really stupid (think PT25 in chrome with pink pearl grips), I can't think of any that "look like toys", in the relevant sense.

    Even a Beretta Storm or a Whitney Wolverine, while looking like a movie prop or a Jet Age gun, still looks like a gun, not a "toy".

    (To say they look like toys that look like real guns is simple circularity...)

  • ||

    Not that I would confuse any of them, but I could cede the point that;

    The AA-12 bears a striking resemblance to a stamped-plastic M-16 noisemaker toy I grew up with.

    The PS90, for whatever reason, has always born a striking resemblance to a paintball marker to me.

    And while I completely concede the tactical appearance of Kriss the size and shape of the action and the gun built around it strikes me as 'supersoakeresque'.

    Still doesn't supercede the overall breakdown in policy and mentality that the article points out; that "13-yr.-old stalking about the park with an AK-47 (AA-12, Kriss, etc.)" seemed like a rational situation at the time and that 1-on-1 standing engagement was the best tactic/resolution.

  • ||

    Steyr also makes a couple of weapons that I'm only loosely familiar with that, at 20-30 ft. or on someone's belt, I'd think were some sort of tazer or labeling gun (or toy) rather than an actual firearm.

    It's convergent engineering/manufacturing and weapons are weapons whether they're used for real killing or just pretend. You would waste lots of time, money, and laws trying to engineer a javelin that didn't look like a spear.

  • DWC||

    How bad do you think the police state will need to get before there is a general backlash against it by the 99% of Americans who are not libertarian? It's like when you are waiting for a loved one who going to die to die and you wish they would do it already, not because you want them dead, but it's horrendous waiting for the inevitable. This slow, agonizing trudge toward total tyranny is just as unendurable. Or maybe we are stuck at some hideous steady state - where most people are not obviously affected so they don't really care, but God help you if you are among the unlucky.

  • ArbutusJoe||

    I used to think that incidents like these (and others, like Obamacare, the Iraq war, the War on Drugs etc.) would *convert* citizens to libertarianism. What I came to realize was that the reaction against statism is internalized but not understood consciously. That is, the negative effects of statism are reacted to the way you smack your leg when a mosquito bites it, instead of buying DEET because you understand the olfactory chemistry of insects.

  • politicsbyothermeans||

    While there is ample evidence that the militarization of police is taking us in the wrong direction, this is not a good example. Why? Because members of the military deal with almost this exact situation every single day and somehow manage not to shoot every one that happens to be holding a scary gun.

    If a US servicemember shot a kid in Afghanistan under these circumstances, he would get court martialed and, likely, convicted.

    The problem here is the concept of "officer safety." Cops should accept that one of the perils of their profession is that they are going to be put into positions like this and that they have a responsibility to protect the public... not shoot children in the back.

  • ||

    While there is ample evidence that the militarization of police is taking us in the wrong direction, this is not a good example.

    I had a 1500+ word reply. Suffice to say; some would consider charging a father of three, armed and trained, to defend an elementary school militarization. Some wouldn't consider putting a 65-yr.-old grandfather of 4, seasoned, armed, and trained militarization. And some would consider allowing anyone to carry hunting knives in school militarization.

  • ||

    I think police in america need to learn how tonhold fire. I mean lethal force in some situations should be authorized such as criminals fireing automatic weapons at cops or trying to stab a police officer. However in situations like this cops should tell the suspect to drop the weapon and give suspect ample time to comply. California once again misses the fucking point yet again.

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