Police union announces lawsuit against manufacturers of ‘fake weapons’

The Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association announced it will file a federal lawsuit against the manufacturers of “fake weapons.”

CPPA attorney Henry Hilow told WEWS-TV that such “weapons” put officers “at risk” because police sometimes can’t tell whether a weapon a citizen is brandishing is a lethal firearm, a pellet gun of some sort, or merely a toy.

“Something has to be done,” Hilow said,

The move comes less than three years after a Cleveland police officer fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in November 2014. Rice appeared to be carrying a gun at the time he was shot, but the weapon in Rice’s hand later turned out to be a pellet gun.

Hilow pointed to a December 2016 Washington Post report, which found that in the previous two years, police across the U.S. fatally shot at least 86 people who they thought at the time were carrying real guns. In all of these instances, the guns the individuals were carrying were not lethal firearms.

However, the Post reported that the guns in each of the 86 fatal shootings had one thing in common: “they were highly realistic copies of firearms.”

According to the Post:

Of those [86], 53 were pneumatic BB or pellet guns that fire small-caliber metal balls or pellets. An additional 16 were Airsoft guns, which use compressed air cartridges to fire plastic BBs. Thirteen were replicas, two were toys, one was a starter pistol and one was a lighter.

Hilow said the lawsuit against “fake weapons” manufacturers would not seek any financial penalties. Rather the police union is asking those manufacturers to redesign their products so that they don’t look as real.

“The remedy that we’d be looking for is that that gun could not replicate a real gun,” Hilow said. “That that gun would be of such a color, have such a tip.”

In 2015, just months after Rice’s death, Ohio state Rep. Bill Patmon, who is from Cleveland, introduced legislation that would ban the sale of “fake weapons” in Ohio altogether.

“No person shall knowingly manufacture an imitation firearm in this state on or after January 1, 2016. … No person shall knowingly sell an imitation firearm in this state on or after January 1, 2016. … Whoever violates division (A) of this section is guilty of illegal manufacture of an imitation firearm, a misdemeanor of the first degree,” the drafted legislation states.

However, the wide assortment of items (including lighters and toys) that have been blamed for these shootings illustrates the potential pitfalls involved in such a law or court decree, unless it encompasses literally all products that could possibly be confused for a real firearm, which is necessarily a highly subjective determination.

While the date on which that legislation would have taken effect has long passed, Patmon’s bill isn’t exactly dead in the water yet.

The bill is currently being considered in a House committee. Patmon blamed his bill getting stalled in committee on the gun lobby during an interview with the Cleveland Plains Dealer in November 2015.

According to WEWS-TV, Patmon and Hilow are now partnering to push for a new state law in Ohio that would make altering the color or design of a “fake weapon” to look more real a first degree misdemeanor.