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Bill seeks to ban replica guns in Baltimore

A city councilman wants to ban replica guns in Baltimore, under proposal to be filed Monday.

The Baltimore City Council is considering a citywide ban on toy guns that are made to look like pistols, machine guns and rifles — and have been linked to shootings in Baltimore and cities across the country.

In April, police in East Baltimore shot and wounded a 14-year-old middle-school student who they say was carrying a spring-air-powered BB gun that resembled a semiautomatic pistol.

Councilman James B. Kraft said he filed the bill to protect city youths.

"The easiest way to resolve this is to get the replica guns off the streets," Kraft said.

New York, Chicago and Washington all have imposed restrictions on replica firearms. The Baltimore bill has broad support on the council and could receive final approval by December.

The legislation comes days after police in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed a 13-year-old boy who they say was carrying a realistic-looking BB gun in his waistband.

In Baltimore, a police detective shot 14-year-old Dedric Colvin in the shoulder and leg April 27. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis called the Daisy brand PowerLine Model 340 spring-air pistol he was carrying an "absolute, identical replica semiautomatic pistol."

Police said at the time that Dedric Colvin's injuries were not life-threatening.

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she supports the concept behind Kraft's bill but will watch it as it moves through the legislative process.

Spokesman Anthony McCarthy said Rawlings-Blake wants any legislation to hold "manufacturers and those who are responsible for the point of sale accountable, and not families and especially our children."

"Continuing to educate the community on the dangerous consequences of what can occur when children and adults possess, use or display replica guns is critical," McCarthy said. "Oftentimes, these replica guns have very few distinguishing characteristics from a real weapon."

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young backs the legislation, a spokesman said.

It "boils down to trying to save lives," spokesman Lester Davis said. "This gives the police another tool to make sure we protect kids."

Under the legislation, owning, carrying or otherwise possessing a replica that could "reasonably be perceived to be a real firearm" could result in police seizing the replica and issuing a $250 fine for a first offense. Fines would rise to $1,000 for second and subsequent offenses.

Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chairman of the council's public safety committee, said enforcing such a ban could pose a problem for police, but figuring out how to address the issue is worthwhile.

"It's a perpetuation of a culture that teaches children, especially young boys, that having a gun makes you big, bad and tough — and it puts them in danger," Scott said. "Why does a young man need to have a toy that looks like a real gun?"

Scott said black youths are especially vulnerable.

"In America, our culture teaches the world that black boys are dangerous," he said.

He said he wants to see congressional action.

"We can talk about how it connects to the right to bear arms," he said. "Does the sanctity of guns in our country overwhelm the sanctity of lives?"

Police have been working with the Johns Hopkins University to come up with solutions, said T.J. Smith, the department's chief spokesman. He said police are generally supportive of Kraft's proposal.

"Additional conversation will go into it being crafted for the final bill," Smith said. "Right now, [the legislation is] about the person who possesses it as opposed to the people who sell it."

Smith asked whether it would be fair to ban a person from possessing a replica gun when "a store on North Avenue can sell it."

Councilman Bill Henry said he wants the bill amended to address such sales.

He hopes action in the city will prompt a statewide ban.

"Let's also cut off the supply," Henry said. "If you can't legally buy them in Maryland, then you have less of an issue of enforcement, in terms of police trying to take them away from kids."

Efforts to pass such legislation in Annapolis were defeated during this year's legislative session. One proposal called for a ban on the manufacture and sale of replica guns that "clearly" resemble firearms.

Gun rights advocates and paintball facility operators joined others in opposing the statewide legislation in Annapolis this year. Some called it government overreach.

After Dedric Colvin's shooting, some state lawmakers said they would try again for a ban when the General Assembly convenes in January.

The city legislation would build on a grass-roots effort that began over the summer.

Juan Nance, a city schoolteacher who lives in Reservoir Hill, helped assemble a group of residents to visit stores along Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore and ask owners and managers to stop selling replica guns.

He said many removed the toy guns from their shelves.

Nance described the effort as a step toward stopping boys and girls from imitating the violence they see and hear.

"It's a social responsibility right now," Nance said. "It's not like playing cops and robbers — kids are robbing each other.

"We're trying to change the narrative of how they think."

On April 27, plainclothes detectives spotted Dedric Colvin, then in eighth grade, in East Baltimore's Jonestown neighborhood with what they believed to be a firearm. According to police, the detectives got out of their vehicle and identified themselves as officers, and the boy began to run.

The officers chased the boy on foot for about 150 yards, police said. Then the detective shot him.

"Those police officers had no way of knowing that it was not, in fact, an actual firearm," Davis said. He said officers can't wait to determine if a gun is real before taking action.

The boy was not charged with a crime.

An attorney for Dedric Colvin's family urged the council to pass the legislation.

"Replica guns were popular when I was growing up, [but] they didn't cause little kids to get shot by anyone, including the police," William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr. said. "To the City Council: Let's do this sooner rather than later."

Police in Columbus investigating a report of an armed robbery last week spotted three males who matched the description of the suspects, authorities said. When officers tried to speak with them, they said, two of them ran away.

The officers chased the pair into an alley and tried to take them into custody, according to police, when Tyre King, 13, pulled out a gun with a laser sight. An officer fired and hit the him several times. The boy died at a hospital.

The 2014 shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a public park in Cleveland drew national attention. Video footage showed the boy brandishing a toy gun in a public park.

The city of Cleveland agreed to pay $6 million to settle a federal lawsuit brought by Tamir Rice's family.

The shootings have helped fuel discussion of the disparate treatment by police of black and white youths.

Davis, who is white, has said the Baltimore encounter might have ended differently if it had been his sons in Dedric Colvin's place.

"They're two 13-year-old white kids," he said after the shooting. "If they had a gun in their hand, would it be perceived differently? Yeah, I'd be the first one to admit that."

No council members spoke in opposition to the legislation Monday.

The current council's term ends in December. Any legislation not approved by then would expire.

The city now prohibits the possession of gas or air pellet guns except on private property or at a range.

The law applies to "any gun or other device, by whatever name or description known, that is designed to discharge or can readily be converted to discharge a pellet or other object by the expansion of gas or air."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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