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Guns – a personal history

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When I was somewhat younger – decades actually – I shot and killed my neighbor, Bobby White, with a .45 caliber Colt “Peacemaker” revolver that had silver bullets in the cylinder and “Lone Ranger” etched on the barrel.

I actually shot and killed Bobby numerous times, although occasionally I would let Bobby shoot and kill me, just so I could die dramatically on his front lawn.

Some time later, I shot my cousin Duncan and my best friend Jon in the back and in the butt with a genuine, lever-action, air-powered, Red Ryder carbine. They, in turn, sometimes shot me. We were soldiers mostly, but sometimes cowboys. The Red Ryder lever-action carbine did not have silver bullets, but it fired real copper BBs with enough muzzle velocity to kill a pigeon or to raise a welt on the skin of a 10-year-old boy.

We quit shooting each other with BB guns when our parents pointed out one of us would eventually lose an eye, but I graduated to a CO2-powered, single shot, .177 caliber pellet pistol with which my younger brother almost put out my eye because neither of us knew there was a pellet in the chamber.

Later in life, I learned to field-strip a .30 caliber M1 Garand, semi-automatic carbine blindfolded, which gave me a certain amount of post-adolescent pride, but I never shot anything with it of note.

Still later, I went nearly deaf repeatedly firing a Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol without wearing ear protection because I was having too much fun punching holes in a derelict car body.

All of which is to say that I understand the allure of guns, I understand the make-believe and the romance of the ones that are toys, as well as the hypnotic power and the fury and the terrifyingly easy way real guns can kill.

Which leads us to the recent tragedy in Santa Rosa and a subsequent armed robbery in Sonoma, both involving toy replicas of real assault rifles.

The shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy, as the boy carried a realistic-looking, Airsoft AK-47, remains incomprehensible to many of us, but it occupies a tragic space defined by the names of places where young shooters used real guns to kill large numbers of people – Columbine, Aurora and Sandy Hook.

The TV images of those massacres are forever fresh in our minds, including the minds of police who see people carrying similar-looking guns in public.

On Nov. 16, a young man entered the Subway shop on Broadway and pulled an assault weapon out from his coat, demanding money. The gun looked so realistic, the 19-year-old clerk was nearly petrified with fear. Police are convinced it was a toy replica.

It’s hard to accept the instant, deadly response from the Sonoma County deputy upon seeing an Airsoft assault rifle in the hands of Andy Lopez. But it’s not hard to understand.

And that’s why we emphatically support legislation jointly authored by 2nd District State Sen. Noreen Evans and 4th District Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, amending California law to require imitation firearms be painted bright colors clearly identifying them as toys.

New York City already does so, as do several other states and foreign countries. California law already prohibits altering toy guns to make them look more realistic, but the orange plastic tip denoting a toy is all to easy to remove.

In 2011 a similar bill, following a similar shooting, died in committee. This time, let’s get it passed.

  • Phineas Worthington

    The shooting death of Andy Lopez is any parent’s worst nightmare. I have no idea what justice for Andy looks like, I don’t know all the facts. A child is dead and the painful, bitter blame game will not bring him back. Police have a very tough job where a simple error in judgement for a split second can be lethal.

    I too played with bb and pellet guns in fields near houses when I was younger and I cannot conceive of being shot by a cop for doing so. In fact, the cops engaged my friend in conversation about safety on one occasion and shared stories of Vietnam. That was then though.

    In today’s context, the toy gun law is a sensible short term solution. The more important long term challenge, we need to deescalate the siege mentality driven by fear somehow.

  • Robert Piazza

    David,
    While I agree with your synopsis and conclusion, I take issue with your statement below. Specifically, “deputy upon seeing a Airsoft assault rifle”. That statement is misleading and inflammatory. The deputy saw a “rifle”, not an Airsoft assault rifle,and claims he felt his life in danger due to the manner in which it was being handled, after he ordered Lopez to put it down. Secondly, it’s not an assualt rifle, as an assault rifle is one that is fully automatic. There is no way the deputy could have made that determination with out examining the rifle and firing it himself.

    “It’s hard to accept the instant, deadly response from the Sonoma County
    deputy upon seeing an Airsoft assault rifle in the hands of Andy Lopez.”

    This is a very sensitive issue for the family, the community and law enforcement. The press needs practice a higher standard that the average editorial commentator and carefully examine their words before printing them.