Minneapolis votes Friday on restrictions for fake guns
An ordinance on ordnance would close a gap in a Minneapolis law allowing people to carry replica firearms in public.
By Steve Brandt, Star Tribune
Last update: October 04, 2007
When two men began chasing each other with handguns, police quickly surrounded the Knox Avenue house they'd entered on the north edge of Minneapolis.
It wasn't until police took both into custody on that late spring day that officers learned that the guns were replicas.
Police officials say they're encountering more cases in which replica firearms are used in crimes or pose split-second decisions for officers.
It's a source of concern for police, who have a particular worry about fake guns.
Police don't want to find themselves using lethal force against someone who's pointing a fake gun at them.
That's why the City Council on Friday is poised with a lopsided vote to restrict the carrying of nonlethal guns. That would follow more limited action by St. Paul earlier this year; both cities appear to be in the forefront of U.S. cities taking such votes.
Minneapolis police hauled a load of replica guns into a council committee last week in support of the proposal, sponsored by Council Member Don Samuels.
Hefting one, Samuels said: "I'm afraid to point it at anyone. This thing is entirely scary."
City officials plan to display some of the imitation ordnance for the public in a news conference preceding today's council meeting.
Police said they confiscated 294 such guns last year, with another 129 collected in the first half of this year. Many were BB guns, which already face some state restrictions. But others were replicas used in assaults, threats, burglaries, car thefts -- even kidnapping. The price of replicas ranges from under $20 to more than $200.
One episode happened just 13 hours after the Knox Avenue incident. Two men were arrested on Bloomington Avenue after shooting replica handguns from a vehicle in imitation of a drive-by shooting.
"You can imagine the kind of hysteria and fear that creates," said Deputy Police Chief Scott Gerlicher.
The ordinance change would fill a gap in Minneapolis. Regulation of firearms is a state matter, but there's little restriction on replicas or the airguns used by hobbyists such as paintball enthusiasts. It's a felony to carry or keep those or BB guns on school property, as happened at Irondale High School this week in New Brighton. They also can't be brandished in a threatening manner.
But replica and airguns can generally be carried in public. That's what today's proposal would address. Those devices couldn't be carried by a person or in a car except under certain conditions.
Assistant City Attorney Joel Fussy said the ordinance is broader than St. Paul's focus on airguns. Gerlicher said he'd like to see the restrictions enacted statewide.
Nationally, other municipalities have restricted possession of replica guns in recent years. Those cities include Beaverton, Ore., and Honolulu.
"We were pretty much at the forefront of this, nationally," said St. Paul City Attorney John Choi.
The only testimony on the Minneapolis proposal came from the Minnesota Airsoft Association, which represents players of paintball-style war games. It supports the restrictions.
Airsoft Association Safety Officer Erik Pakieser said the replicas are used by collectors who don't want to bother with firearm regulations --people such as military re-enactors, those involved in role-playing games or museums, and in law-enforcement training.
"The problem is the realism," Pakieser told council members last week. The replicas are real enough to be used in a crime, and their use forces police to decide whether a replica is real or not. "We want to prevent that," Pakieser said.
Police had to make such a decision in 2004. Courtney Williams and other friends passed a gun between them as they ran from police on another block of Knox Avenue.
Officer Scott Mars testified that he yelled repeatedly for Williams to stop. When he saw that Williams held a chrome handgun as he turned toward Mars, the officer fired, killing Williams.
Williams had a .45-caliber air-pellet gun, which state law already prohibited from being used in a threatening manner. A grand jury cleared Mars in the death.
The proposal drew no opposition at a public hearing, and the National Rifle Association
did not respond to an inquiry on whether it has a position on the issue.
"It's the kind of ordinance where everybody has to ask themselves, 'Why didn't we do this before?'" Samuels said.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438
Steve Brandt • firstname.lastname@example.org