Staring Down The Barrel: Law enforcement officers are more frequently encountering toy guns that look very real

Published 6:01 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Is that a real gun or just a toy?

Across the country, law enforcement officers are facing that question with a fraction of a second to make a decision with their life or the lives of others hanging in the balance. If they hesitate, they could lose their life or see someone killed before their eyes. If they react, they could save a life. Or, they could find themselves spending the rest of their lives living with the fact they shot someone who was holding a toy.

Those same officers are also encountering toy guns that are looking more and more like the real thing, according to Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford.

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In recent years, news stories from around the country have told the story of officers responding to a report of an armed subject have shot the suspect only to learn later the gun the person wielded was not a real firearm.

“You have to react to a perceived threat, especially in law enforcement,” Lunceford said. “A lot of it is the circumstances of the situation and the threat.”

“I just want the public to be aware, so when they see these stories, they will understand why officers react to them the way they do,” the Sheriff added. “We can’t wait for them to shoot and hope they miss.”

Carter County is not immune to officers encountering realistic looking toy guns. Lunceford cited two recent incidents where officers came across such weapons.

In one incident, officers were called to investigate a report of a shooting. A man reported to officers that another man had fired a gun at him, resulting in a non-fatal injury. Lunceford said during the investigation officers learned the man who filed the report had been carrying a realistic-looking toy gun at the time of the incident.

“He allegedly pointed it at someone, and the man defended himself,” Lunceford said.

The other case was a theft investigation where officers found a BB revolver that looked, and worked, very much like the real thing, Lunceford said.

The revolver featured a working cylinder and used cartridges that resemble real bullets to load the BBs into the gun. Along the top of the barrel was a tactical mounting bracket which can be used to attach a scope or sights to the weapon while a tactical mounting bracket underneath the barrel would allow a flashlight to be attached.

While the realistic looking weapons can create problems for officers, Lunceford said the bigger issue is the behavior people display with the toys.

“It’s not the manufacture of these weapons; it’s pointing them at people,” Lunceford said. “The issue is you never, under any circumstances, point a gun at someone, toy or not, unless you are going to kill them.”

Lunceford said he hopes by sharing the story of what his officers have encountered he can help to educate the public regarding these types of incidents as well as possibly deterring someone from making a poor decision by choosing to point a toy gun at someone, especially a law enforcement officer.

“The moral of the story is you never, ever point a weapon at someone unless you mean to do them harm,” he said.