FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!
Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).
November 2018 (3)
October 2018 (4)
September 2018 (3)
August 2018 (6)
July 2018 (4)
June 2018 (3)
April 2018 (1)
March 2018 (2)
January 2018 (1)
September 2017 (1)
August 2017 (1)
May 2017 (1)
April 2017 (1)
January 2017 (1)
November 2016 (1)
September 2016 (1)
June 2016 (2)
May 2016 (3)
April 2016 (2)
March 2016 (1)
February 2016 (3)
January 2016 (1)
December 2015 (1)
November 2015 (5)
October 2015 (1)
September 2015 (3)
August 2015 (3)
July 2015 (6)
June 2015 (3)
May 2015 (2)
April 2015 (3)
March 2015 (5)
February 2015 (1)
January 2015 (1)
December 2014 (9)
October 2014 (2)
September 2014 (2)
August 2014 (2)
July 2014 (1)
June 2014 (2)
May 2014 (2)
April 2014 (4)
March 2014 (2)
February 2014 (3)
January 2014 (3)
December 2013 (2)
November 2013 (2)
October 2013 (3)
September 2013 (5)
August 2013 (3)
July 2013 (3)
June 2013 (3)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (3)
March 2013 (5)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (3)
December 2012 (5)
November 2012 (2)
October 2012 (4)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (5)
July 2012 (4)
June 2012 (3)
May 2012 (5)
April 2012 (6)
March 2012 (5)
February 2012 (3)
January 2012 (5)
December 2011 (5)
November 2011 (3)
October 2011 (3)
September 2011 (3)
August 2011 (2)
July 2011 (2)
June 2011 (3)
May 2011 (4)
April 2011 (3)
March 2011 (5)
February 2011 (3)
January 2011 (3)
December 2010 (2)
November 2010 (4)
October 2010 (4)
September 2010 (5)
August 2010 (4)
July 2010 (4)
June 2010 (4)
May 2010 (4)
April 2010 (3)
March 2010 (3)
February 2010 (1)
January 2010 (3)
December 2009 (4)
November 2009 (4)
October 2009 (2)
September 2009 (3)
August 2009 (4)
July 2009 (5)
June 2009 (3)
May 2009 (5)
April 2009 (4)
March 2009 (4)
February 2009 (3)
January 2009 (2)
December 2008 (4)
November 2008 (3)
October 2008 (3)
September 2008 (3)
August 2008 (2)
July 2008 (3)
June 2008 (4)
May 2008 (5)
April 2008 (5)
March 2008 (4)
February 2008 (5)
January 2008 (3)
December 2007 (2)
November 2007 (5)
October 2007 (4)
September 2007 (4)
August 2007 (5)
July 2007 (4)
June 2007 (4)
May 2007 (5)

Toy Guns and Cops: A Toxic Mix

Encounters by officers and kids carrying realistic replica guns can lead to terrible tragedies.

November 04, 2013  |  by - Also by this author

Around 1971, a fake blood product came out called Vampire Blood. White letters against a crimson splash promised that the contents of its plastic tubing would be easily confused with oxygenated hemoglobin. I suppose it was hypoallergenic and non-toxic, too, because my 10-year-old friends and I chugged as much of the blood-red liquid as not and seemingly to no ill-effect. What was left was put to more creative use.

Dousing my friend Ronnie’s face and bare chest with the red stuff, I’d have him take off running down the side of our residential street with his back to oncoming traffic. Then, as some unsuspecting motorist would draw near, I’d start firing from a realistic cap gun at Ronnie who'd perform a melodramatic death-spiral before collapsing next to the roadway. 

The sound of the "gunfire," the smoke of spent cap gunpowder, and the spectacle of Ronnie’s blood-splattered torso would find the startled motorist slowing to do a double-take at our street side mayhem. Usually, the sight of Ronnie's round face giggling was enough for this traveler to make some comment about "little bastards" and press on, any initial relief he’d possibly experienced quickly replaced by a desire to see the job done right. And then Ronnie and I would be right back at it.

Our experiment in performance art lasted until an elderly black couple—their hour and attire suggesting a return trip from church—happened upon our roadside dramatics. 

At the sound of my gunshots, the gentleman slammed on his brakes so that his wife nearly hit the dashboard and the driver directly behind them was forced to steer into the oncoming lane so as to avoid a collision with their vehicle. Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic.

That we'd been damn lucky that nobody had been hurt became belatedly apparent to Ronnie and I and we canceled our matinee performances. 

While Vampire Blood had kept its promise to confuse onlookers, the toy gun had certainly played its part, too. And this was long before the advent of kids intent on playing “The Most Dangerous Game” with their peers began roaming school hallways with real guns. 

I can't help but wonder what might happen if we'd tried that crap today and some cop happened upon the scene. Certainly, my stupidity transcended that of the 13-year-old boy (Alex Lopez) recently shot and killed by Sonoma County, Calif., Dep. Erick Gelhaus. Lopez’s death was hardly an isolated incident. Tragic encounters between officers and people carrying airsoft, toys, and other firearm replicas are unfortunately common.

While I cannot categorically assert such tragedies did not occur in decades past, I feel comfortable asserting that they did not occur with such frequency. Ironically, today's threats come at a time when kids would seemingly be less apt to find themselves staring down the wrong end of the real thing. Actively discouraged from simulating gunplay to the point of ridiculous school suspensions, relegated to either finger-pointing and yelling "bang, bang" or wielding toy guns modified with green-and-orange tipped barrels, one would reasonably think that confusing these distant cousins with the for the real thing would require the kind of credulity normally associated with Obama supporters.

And yet we still have instances of kids getting killed over inconvenient props.

To be sure, some of these toys and replicas may be much more easily mistaken for the real thing than others, and having seen the image of the airsoft gun wielded by Lopez, my heart goes out to the officers involved in his shooting. As for those who have tried to damn those officers, I wonder what they would hope they might do if they'd seen 12-year-old Nevada teenager Jose Reyes whip out a firearm on teacher Michael Lansberry. Would they have damned them for failing to drop the hammer then, particularly at the expense of the Marine's life?

What we are seeing is a tragic nexus between an age-old entitlement of male youth—playing with toy guns—and a new-age reality of the world (i.e., kids with real guns). And for all the unnecessary suspending and expelling of those who would play cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, or Jason meets the “Hunger Games,” boys will be boys. But when the discriminating barometer between men and boys is the price of their toys, then along that gradient scale lies a netherworld occupied by those high-end replica guns that can be confused with the real thing.

I stand by my advocacy for quick and decisive action in matters wherein there is the perception of imminent harm to an officer or others, including those posed by youths. And yet when I think of my teenage son asleep in the other room, I can't help but wonder if there isn't something more to be done to prevent such tragedies. Something that can avoid another Rodrigo Lopez from having to grieve, "It's not right what they did to my son?" Or are we just resigned to the occasional perfect storm of unfortunate events that coalesce into oxymoronic headlines such as "Cops Release Name of 12-Year-Old Gunman?"

I don't know that there is a practical answer, one that wouldn't step on someone's toes. But I believe the question should be asked by ourselves. And by parents. But it seems like most of the questions are being posed on the sidelines by a news media that is making much of the fact that one officer fired before his partner was even out of the car.

It's heady stuff, this profession that finds cops performing a kind of tightrope walk that would scare the hell out of the Wallendas. In recent days it has been revealed that a motorist who'd been detained by Gelhaus had expressed concerns about the 24-year law enforcement veteran's emotional heath two months prior to the incident.

Was Gelhaus a trigger-happy shooter (despite not having previously fired his weapon in over two decades of working law enforcement)? Might he have been a ticking time bomb? Or was he just a well-trained officer who responded reasonably and decisively to a very realistic threat?

Don't ask me—I'm still trying to figure out why a profession gives psych exams to a candidacy pool that would have to be crazy to seek the job in the first place.

FBI Investigating Calif. Airsoft Shooting

Calif. Deputy Who Shot Airsoft-Carrying Teen Identified

Calif. Deputy Kills Boy who Brandished Airsoft AK-47

Attorney: Calif. Dep. Absolutely Believed AK-47 was Real

Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

tpd223 @ 11/5/2013 7:59 PM

I will note that the "kids" who shot up their own school in Jonesboro Ark. were 11 and 13 years old, yet that did not stop them from being able to successfully plan and execute a complex ambush/mass shooting attack.

West Memphis found out in no uncertain terms what happens when officers do not react in time to a 16 year old with an AK.

Join the Discussion

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Blog Posts

Recharging Your Batteries: The Benefits of "Unplugging"
There is certainly benefit to being current on events involving the people you consider...
Speaking on the Unspeakable: Ending the Pandemic of Police Officer Suicide
I've talked with officers who have lost a colleague to suicide—as well as many widows of...

Police Magazine