Twice in less than four months police officers have shot and killed Ohioans who were carrying realistic-looking pellet guns in public — prompting one lawmaker to call for a requirement that all BB guns, air rifles and airsoft guns sold in Ohio be brightly colored or have florescent strips on them.
But the proposal by Rep. Alicia Reece, D-Cincinnati, likely won’t get a long look in the current legislative session, which wraps up at the end of next month.
House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina, said committee hearings will be held after it is introduced next month, but the discussion will have to resume in the next legislative session.
“It is important though that as a caucus we continue to discuss ways to ensure that these kinds of tragedies never happen again,” he said.
Reece said she plans to introduce the bill by Dec. 10. Given the timetable, the bill will likely have to be re-introduced next session.
“I’m open to try to work together,” said Reece. “The issue is we don’t want any more tragedies where there’s a toy gun mistaken for a real gun and someone is dead.”
Reece’s legislation comes in response to the Aug. 5 shooting at the Beavercreek Wal-Mart and over the weekend in Cleveland, where a rookie police officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice after he pulled an “airsoft” type replica weapon from his waistband.
Both John Crawford III and Rice were killed after police were summoned in response to callers who said they were brandishing a weapon in public.
“The shooting of John Crawford III devastated many people in our community and left us looking for answers,” Reece said in a written statement. “This bill is but one small step in addressing this tragedy and helping to prevent future deadly confrontations with someone who clearly presents little to no immediate threat or danger. With Saturday’s deadly shooting of a 12-year-old in Cleveland, it is becoming crystal clear that we need this law in Ohio.”
Tamir Rice had an air gun that was “indistinguishable from a real firearm,” Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said at a press conference Monday. He said that he would support Reece’s bill and that officers often see such realistic-looking weapons on the streets.
Jim Irvine of the Buckeye Firearms Association, however, says the bill wouldn’t be effective because people could paint over the bright colors and because criminals currently paint their real guns with an orange tip to look like a toy so they can gain the upper hand against police.
“It is very dangerous to tell your police officers to shoot or don’t shoot someone based on the color of the gun,” he said.
Hamilton Police Sgt. Ed Buns made a similar comment.
“Anything we can do to try to make people safer is a reasonable process. However,” he said, “what’s going to stop the thug, the deranged individual from going out and buying a can of black spray paint, painting the gun black and pointing it at a police officer or another individual?”
Some toy guns and lookalike devices are required by a 1988 federal law to have a blaze orange marking on the muzzle. The law exempts non-firing collector antiques, traditional BB guns, paint ball and pellet guns that expel projectiles through the force of compressed air or gas, or mechanical spring action. Ohio is among 27 states that lack restrictions on pellet, BB or air guns.
At least 18 other people nationwide have been killed by police and another 13 injured during the past 15 years in situations where police confronted suspects armed with realistic-looking weapons found later to be toys, BB or pellet guns — and even cigarette lighters — according to cases compiled by the International Health & Epidemiology Research Center and research by this newspaper.
Law enforcement does not track police shootings involving replica firearms so the numbers could be higher. State Rep. Peter Beck, R-Mason, introduced a bill in October that would require police to file written reports with the state Department of Public Safety on any officer-involved fatal shootings. The bill is not expected to be adopted this legislative session.
A National Rifle Association representative did not return messages seeking comment. A spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the Reece proposal is under review and the AG has not yet taken a position on it.
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