Close to Home: Think twice before buying replica guns this holiday

  • 10/24/2013:A8: Santa Rosa Police Lt. Lance Badger on Wednesday holds an actual AK-47, left, next to a replica ‘airsoft' model carried by Andy Lopez, 13, on Tuesday.

    PC: Santa Rosa Police Lt. Lance Badger holds an actual AK-47, left, next to a replica Airsoft carried by Andy Lopez, 13, when he was shot and killed by a Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy on Tuesday. The guns were displayed during a press conference led by Lt. Paul Henry, left, in Santa Rosa on Wednesday, October 23, 2013. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Eight weeks have passed since the death of Andy Lopez. The community has expressed strong emotions and demands for action to ensure such a tragedy not be repeated. My colleagues and I share the community's grief over Andy's death and have begun to move forward on 20 separate strategies to build a stronger community and to prevent future tragedies.

We have established a community task force to advise the Board of Supervisors how best to establish an independent review board. We have authorized the purchase of lapel cameras for sheriff's deputies and initiated work on the creation of a much-needed community park in the Moorland neighborhood. We also have formed an ad hoc committee to engage the city on the long overdue annexation of southwest Santa Rosa.

And now, with Christmas just a few days away, we have an opportunity to collectively address another key issue raised in this tragic event — the danger associated with replica weapons. We can't ignore the role that a "toy" explicitly designed to resemble an AK-47 assault weapon played in this tragedy. No doubt we will learn more when the investigation is complete, but we have an opportunity now, particularly during the holidays, to help prevent a similar tragedy.

The Board of Supervisors' legislative platform includes language advocating regulation of replica weapons in the hope of preventing the tragic circumstances that can occur when these toys look just like real firearms. We are also reaching out to the manufacturers and retailers of replica weapons in the hope that Andy's death may provide the impetus to work together for sensible regulations.

Simply put, all of us need to make sure replica weapons are clearly distinguishable from real guns for the benefit of our community, including law enforcement. Current regulations require only small orange tips be placed on some of these toys which may or may not be visible at night or from long distances. In addition, these tips, many added postproduction, can be easily removed or even break off. We need to do more to protect our children.

The role of replica weapons in community tragedies is all too common. A congressionally mandated report published in 1990 found that in less than a five year period there were 1,128 incidents where an officer warned or threatened to use force and 252 cases where actual force had been used based on the belief that an imitation gun was real. No doubt those numbers have only increased over the past 23 years as the sale of replica weapons of all kinds has proliferated.

This holiday season, think twice before purchasing a replica weapon as a gift. This holiday season, offer to trade your child's replica weapon for an alternative gift — a gift that can challenge their intellect, help them dream, have fun, but most importantly, a gift that will not place them in potential danger.

Our local sporting goods stores and retailers can promote the sale of alternatives and provide educational materials. As a parent, I would be grateful for this awareness and contribution to our community. I would encourage our retailers to care about our community and the safety of our children as much as they do about their bottom line.

This is but one strategy the Board of Supervisors is undertaking to do all we can to prevent future tragedies. We have a tremendous amount of work ahead, which will continue for a long time, but we are committed to building a safe, compassionate community for all. Toys need to look like toys for the benefit of our children, law enforcement and our community.

<i>David Rabbitt is chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.</i>

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