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Juveniles and Facsimile Guns

With nicer weather and longer daylight hours, we see juveniles hanging out and enjoying the opportunity to get outside. While the overwhelming majority of our youth are making good choices and living up to our expectations, we do see upticks in issues related to weapons offenses, fight calls, and disturbances as spring yields to summer. Regardless of who calls or whether the context is readily understood, a call for service to the Dane County Communications Center generates a police response.

Let’s focus on some recent incidents where citizens have reported “guns displayed” by juveniles. Often these guns turn out to be “bb”/pellet/paintball guns. The remarkable likeness to real firearms is frightening and one can understand why these facsimile guns should not be minimized as to their authenticity and capabilities. Once we arrive at a scene and stabilize the dynamics of what is taking place, oftentimes the investigation reveals that the gun in question is a facsimile and the juveniles were “just playing.” One can readily understand the level of fear, apprehension, and stress for all parties involved given the volatility of a situation where an apparent gun is self-evident.

A responding officer cannot discount or assume that a gun is “merely” a facsimile. Over the years, “shots fired” has become a separate/stand-alone category incident that MPD has attempted to quantify given its frequency. These are always dangerous and challenging calls for cops and constituents alike; each call is handled situationally and the responding officers go to great lengths to gather as much information as possible before taking decisive actions.

This is a good reminder that parents and guardians should have a frank discussion with their children about the potential dangers of these various facsimile firearms. The conversation should also embrace what to do if contacted by the police in the event that they are associated with a call of this nature. Specifically, the juvenile—particularly one that is holding such a facsimile—should drop the gun and never point or threaten with a gun in hand. Follow the verbal instructions as they are provided. Flight or furtive motions can only lead to further ambiguity as to whether a gun is involved. If the youth believes that they were not treated appropriately or that the officer violated anyone’s rights, there is a mechanism for filing a complaint after the incident has been resolved. In the meantime, it is best to stay calm and be a good witness to what transpires.

Madison City Ordinance 25.01(5) states “No person under the age of 18 shall be armed with or be sold a pellet gun.” Madison City Ordinance 25.30(2) states, “No person may carry or display a facsimile firearm in a manner that could reasonably be expected to alarm, intimidate, threaten or terrify another person.” Madison City Ordinance 25.06 prohibits any discharge of firearms within the City limits.

With respect to calls of fights in progress or a disturbance, the police have no way of knowing whether this is much ado about nothing or youths engaging in “play-fighting.” We respond, separate and interview all of those involved parties to ensure that there is no intentional harm taking place and that this was merely a misunderstanding where the context was not readily apparent to the caller. We do not want people refraining from calling in because they are unsure about the underlying behavior; better to err on the side of caution rather than allow a situation to potentially escalate. If this is just “playing around,” then nothing more than a contact from the police will result with no adverse findings.

This post was originally published May 6, 2019 at Chief Koval’s Blog.

Michael Koval
Chief of Police
Madison Police Department, Wisconsin