This should almost go without saying, but fake guns can get you into real trouble, real fast.
Consider the case from a few days ago in Storm Lake. Two teenage girls are feuding, one is walking home from sports practice at night when a vehicle comes rolling up on her - scary enough for a 15-year-old alone at night. Then her protagonist pops out of the sunroom, spouts some threats and pulls a handgun on the kid.
Luckily, things went no further. The vehicle fled, and after police got wind of the incident, someone who knew the girl with the gun took it to the police station and turned it in.
Turns out, the pistol was an "Airsoft" gun.
Airsoft is a military simulation sport where players take part in mock combat using full-scale, authentic-looking military style guns. There are scores of models, often with the logos of the real gunmaker on them. The weapons fire 6mm BB's made of hard plastic. They wouldn't do much damage to anything more durable than a mouse or a pigeon, or unless you take a round right in the eyes.
Oh my gosh, I'm about to sound like my grandma or a bad Christmas movie - "It's all fun and games until somebody puts an eye out, whippersnapper..."
Problem is, these guns can be obtained just about anywhere including Amazon, by anyone of any age, allowance-money cheap. And if you think they are all being used for harmless little war-games, I have a bridge to sell you.
They are an affordable way for thugs to rob or intimidate victims, who will never know they were not staring down a real Baretta or Luger, especially in the dark.
Consider - what if the scared victim girl in our Storm Lake scenario had a real gun hidden in her gym bag? Or what if, instead of alerting law enforcement, she'd gathered others to go seek revenge? What if police had come upon the scene of one teenager seemingly about to shoot another down in the street?
You can see what I mean. Fake gun, real trouble.
Ask families in Baltimore, where a 13-year-old was shot by police after pointing a gun officers thought was real. Or in Cleveland where a 12-year-old was killed while carrying an Airsoft weapon for play. Or Santa Rosa, where a teenager was shot after calling police on himself and brandishing a fake gun in an apparent suicide attempt. Or Ohio, where a 22-year-old was shot while holding a replica MK-177 pellet gun in a Walmart store.
I feel for police here. Faced with an instantaneous life or death situation in the streets, they also often have no way of knowing if a gun is replica or the real thing.
In a quick search, I found 22 people who have been killed in Airsoft gun incidents in the past 10 years.
In other countries, Airsoft guns may be banned, controlled, restricted to age 18 and over, or treated like regular weapons to be licensed. Here, nothing.
A good start might be to require makers of replica play weapons to make them in all blaze orange. You could play your games just as well, and police and the public could tell the fakes from the real thing in any street incidents. Some young people would be alive today if we could only manage a little common sense.
It's not fool-proof, or course. I suppose an enterprising criminal could paint over a fake to try to make it look real, if they really wanted to invest that much effort into their thuggery. But most of the fatalities seem to be misunderstandings, suicidal behavior or children at play, and those kind of killings are preventable. To begin with, parents need to teach their children that these are not toys, don't belong in the streets or public places, and should never be pointed at another person, even if just fooling around.
Facebook tried to ban sales and trading of firing Airsoft weapons, but the industry ignored the rules. Gun owners sell weapons as "spoons," showing a spoon in the foreground and the gun in the background to foil Facebook blocks. Wouldn't looking for a real safety solution be a better idea?
Don't get me wrong here, I'm not some gun-hating liberal. If people use their weapons properly, store them safely and follow the laws, there's no problem. Hunting rifles and shotguns, target-shooting weapons, or even personal-protection handguns handled by trained and licensed people are not what is causing violent incidents on the streets of this country.
I'm not even saying that we need to ban Airsofts, as some state legislatures are proposing - just regulate them enough that children can't buy them without parents' knowledge, and make sure they look like toys if they are to be used as toys - to protect the lives of those who use them.
Better orange than banned, right manufacturers and sellers? And if they don't act willingly to do the right thing, then I suppose we have to take stronger action. And, I would guess a few fat lawsuits from people who have been victimized with those guns in criminal situations, and wrongful death cases with families of those mistakenly killed, will go a long way toward making orange look good.
I couldn't be more thrilled that a project looks like a go for the condo site on Sunrise Park Road. Driving, biking or walking past that mess twice every day for the past 10 years is enough.
It occurs to me that some people might be quick to criticize that the City is offering considerable incentives to get the project done - more in fact over time than the price the developer is paying them.
But don't think that makes it a sour deal. Keep in mind here that all of those incentives are a part of the future revenue the site will generate in taxes.
The mantra is true, you can grow and have a percentage of the pie, or you can do nothing and have 100 percent of nothing at all.
The project spares taxpayers from paying nearly a million bucks to restore the long-abandoned foundation, or costly demolition, with no guarantees that would ever get much-needed new housing.
The way things stand, we get an embarrassing mess cleaned up, get new market-rate housing we really need, and a tax base boost that will help our city and schools for long after the incentives expire.
Good deal for the City, good deal for the contractors. This is how progress happens. Well done, City staff.
The book of knowledge
I never go anywhere without a book. And that means I haunt the table at the library where they sell off their old or donated volumes at a bargain basement price - two hardcover books for the price of a can of pop? Heck yeah.
Today I noticed this title, which made me think:
"So You Want to be a Lesbian?"
First, kind of an odd thing for a public library to be peddling, but hey, censorship sucks. To each their own.
But, if you want to be a lesbian, wouldn't you pretty much already be one? And if you do, but you need a book for instructions, you may have difficulties from the get-go.
Help out the library, folks. Buy a book.