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LAPD seeks tighter regulations on toy guns

Chief Charlie Beck urges law requiring BB guns to be brightly colored to avoid confusion with authentic firearms.

June 07, 2011|By Sam Allen, Los Angeles Times
  • Law enforcement experts say toy guns can easily be mistaken for the real thing. Ivan Ruiz, 7, is shown participating in a BB gun shooting contest at a Boy Scouts event in El Monte.
Law enforcement experts say toy guns can easily be mistaken for the real… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck is proposing that the city require BB-gun replicas of actual firearms to be brightly colored so that police officers don't mistake them for real weapons.

The proposal, which the Los Angeles Police Commission will consider Tuesday, comes after two shootings involving officers and people with replica weapons, including one in which a teenager was wounded. Under the new rule, all such toys sold inLos Angeles would have the "entire exterior surface of the device white, bright red, bright orange, bright yellow, bright green, bright blue, bright pink or bright purple."

Guns would also be allowed if they were "constructed of transparent or translucent materials which permits unmistakable observation of the device's complete contents."

"This change will not ban such devices but will aid law enforcement in differentiating real firearms from BB devices and imitation firearms. It will also prevent the sales and possession of BB devices and imitation firearms in the city of Los Angeles that are similar in size and appearance to actual firearms," Beck wrote in a memo.

The guns come in various models that closely resemble real weapons such as Berettas, shotguns and pistols. Law enforcement experts say the toys can easily be mistaken for the real thing, especially in a situation in which an officer must react quickly and decisively.

On Dec. 16, three boys were playing with the guns on North Verdugo Road in Glassell Park when two LAPD officers stopped to investigate. An officer fired at one of the boys, believing the boy's gun was a real weapon, according to an LAPD news release. The boy was shot in the torso and underwent surgery.

Capt. David Lindsay, who headed the Northeast Division when the shooting occurred, said the division had faced several incidents in recent months involving toy guns, and noted that they have been taken from gang members and robbery suspects.

"It's a consistent issue for us. I saw the guns the kids had that night from a distance of 3 or 4 feet; when you first look at them, they look identical to a particular style of handgun, a Beretta 92F," Lindsay said in an interview earlier this year. He has since been transferred to a different position.

Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith said the December incident alarmed him and his staff because a local activist warned them about the toy guns several months earlier.

Les Salay, a Vietnam veteran, firearm instructor and father of three, had contacted Smith and presented him photographs of Airsoft guns that his daughter had purchased from ice cream trucks outside two schools near his family's Chatsworth home.

Salay said he had asked his daughter Ashley, 12, to try to purchase the guns because he wanted to see if vendors would sell them to her. She was able to buy several guns from the ice cream trucks, he said, two of which had warnings on them that they were intended for ages 18 and older.

"At an ice cream truck, there is no parent who can say 'no, no, no, you can't have that,' " said Salay, who also teaches gun safety to Boy Scouts. "To sell a 12-year-old girl a gun that looks like a real gun is a tragedy waiting to happen. And now it has happened."

The Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance banning the sale of toy guns from ice cream trucks in 2005, but several distributors interviewed by The Times said some trucks still carry the guns.

"It's a few renegade trucks that do it," said Fred Karamati, owner of Avalon Ice Cream, a distributor in Los Angeles. He said that he no longer sells the guns to truck operators, but that they are widely available at toy wholesalers throughout the city.

Smith, who is also an LAPD reserve officer, said the guns pose a problem for police because officers typically have only seconds to react in a situation in which they believe a subject is armed. He considered a citywide ban of the replica weapons earlier this year.

"If you see something that just looks like a gun, you're going to shoot," Smith said after the Glassell Park shooting. "That's what you're trained to do. Your mind doesn't have enough time to process whether it's a real gun or a fake gun."

His office said Monday that he supported Beck's proposal.

sam.allen@latimes.com

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