Gun incidents bring up potential worries

Published 1:07 am Saturday, January 24, 2015

One of these guns is real and the other is a toy, which was confiscated from a teenager who had the police called on him because it was visible in public.

One of these guns is real and the other is a toy, which was confiscated from a teenager who had the police called on him because it was visible in public.

When Franklin Police Department spokesman Captain Tim Whitt heard about a pair of gun-related incidents that happened in Franklin, his concern turned toward an issue high up in the public’s consciousness: officer-related shootings against people with toy guns.

“Whether it is a justified shooting or not, it is a tragedy,” Whitt said. “Even if an officer is cleared of any charges, it’s still a tragedy that it happened. What I would like to do is keep an event like this from happening in Franklin.”

This week, Franklin police were called to Third Avenue by a resident who said she saw a man with a gun. Whitt said officers were briefed that the man pulled the handgun out of his waistband, racked the slide, and then put the firearm back in his pants.

When the police approached, they encountered four males, and one of them turned to enter the house. Before he could enter, one of the officers asked him about the reported gun.

The subject said that he had a B.B. gun, and he allowed officers to confiscate it without incident.

The B.B. gun was an air-soft replica gun that looked remarkably like the real thing, particularly so since the subject had removed the orange tip. Whitt said that given time to observe it, an officer could tell the difference. In a split second, however, after being called to investigate a man reported with a handgun, and knowing that if he pulls the trigger that officer may never see his or her family again, the captain said it’s a lot harder to distinguish the small details, even at point-blank range.

In addition, the captain said this wasn’t the first time this month that this pair of officers encountered teenagers with a potential gun.

On Jan. 2, after 4:30 a.m., the same squad engaged five juveniles, ages 15 to 17, who were walking on Hunterdale Road near Fairview. It turned out that two of the teenagers were in possession of real guns, a .22 revolver and a 9 millimeter pistol.

“We went from a situation with kids with real guns to a kid with a gun that looks real,” Whitt said. “It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.”

If a gun is pulled on an officer, Whitt said it becomes a matter of life and death. And if the officer takes a few extra seconds to try and guess if the gun is real or not, and the gun does turn out to be real, then he or she is dead.

“I don’t see any reason why a law enforcement officer should sacrifice their life in second-guessing their decision,” he said. “Not to placate a segment of population that refuses to obey the laws of society.”

Whitt also said that if the officer does pull the trigger, and the gun turns out to be a toy, that is also a situation where the police will lose.

“Would people understand what happened?” the captain said. “Would people care to understand?”

Simply, a toy gun that is made to look like the real thing needs to be treated like it is the real thing, said Whitt. Parents should know if their children have these items, and they should make sure their children are educated on the responsibilities that having one in public carries.

“There’s nothing wrong with having one of these toy guns, as long as there is parental supervision or the child is mature enough to handle it,” he said.

An important note with these guns, Whitt said, is to leave the orange tip on.

“There’s no reason to take it off other than to evoke fear in people that you have a real gun,” he said.

And should the police approach, the proper response is to tell them about the toy gun, and then follow the officer’s commands.

“Once it is tested and everything is fine, then we can part company,” Whitt said.

This time, the captain said, it just turned out to be a 17-year-old with a toy gun who ultimately respected the situation. Whitt wants to make sure that scenario never plays out in a way that causes a loss of life for anyone involved.

“Officers are not called to the scene of a teenager with a toy gun, they are called to the scene of a man with a gun,” he said. “Until a gun is proven to be a toy, we have to assume it is real out of respect to the power of a firearm. It’s happening all around the country, and we do not want an incident like that happening here.

“My message to parents is to know where your children are, know who they are hanging out with and know what they are doing. The big thing is parental instruction and guidance.”