BY NICK MCWHERTER
Capital News Service
LANSING- Young teenagers playing with toy guns could have been killed in a mall parking lot a few years ago when police responded to the scene.
This close call sparked legislators to develop a bill banning any modification of a toy to make it look more like a real gun.
The incident with the toy guns took place in Taylor and could have been dangerous because others in the parking lot, as well as police, thought the guns were real.
Lawmakers have proposed legislation to punish those who alter replica and toy guns to make them look more realistic. The bill would also protect those that modify the toys because police that respond are often under the impression that the guns are real.
Toy guns are altered by removing their orange safety tips and painting them to look more realistic.
The Taylor incident involved a group of teenagers that were playing with imitation firearms in a way that caused some people in the mall parking lot to be alarmed enough to contact police, said Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor, the primary sponsor of the bill.
“Police had concerns that they were entering into a really bad and dangerous situation with real firearms,” Hopgood said.
This and other incidents prompted proposed legislation to make the altering of toy guns a criminal offense. This is something that will hopefully help to protect the safety of everyone, he said, including the people who alter the guns. Police could shoot them thinking the guns are real.
“The potential for harm is based on the fact that a gun is always considered deadly force in Michigan,” said Steve Dulan, a member of the board of directors for the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners. “If a person points a gun at another person, then the person that the gun is being pointed at has a legal right to defend him or herself with deadly force, whether it is a police officer or another citizen.”
Law enforcement often believes these guns are real and that people could be killed because of the threat they pose, said Sen. Rick Jones, R- Grand Ledge, a sponsor of the bill.
“Young thugs that want to intimidate people buy these imitation guns, alter them to make them look real and then aggressively wave them at people in a threatening manner,” Jones said. “It is a very, very dangerous situation.”
The proposed legislation allows for misdemeanor and felony charges.
The charge would depend on the situation and the intent of the person altering the firearm, Hopgood said. A misdemeanor charge could result from the altering of guns but without malicious intent. A felony could occur if a crime was committed using the toy guns and the intent was to harm others.
In some situations kids are playing with these guns, Hopgood said. In others, criminals use them in a negative way to commit a crime.
Law enforcement has been supportive and Hopgood hopes that this will give them the tools to enforce the law and educate the public.
Hopgood said the legislation could be a learning tool for parents, especially during the holiday toy-shopping season. He hopes that parents can become aware of the consequences and should make sure that kids are not altering toy guns to look more realistic, for the safety of everyone.
The purpose of the bill is to prevent tragedy from occurring, Dulan said.
The bill is awaiting action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.