Baltimore set to ban gun replicas

In an effort to address the city’s large number of shootings, the Baltimore City Council unanimously voted for the preliminary approval of a citywide gun replica ban last Monday. The legislation bans the possession of toys and replicas that may pass as working handguns and rifles.

The consideration on the council’s agenda passed unanimously with a 14-0 vote for the ban of replicas. According to Council President Bernard “Jack” Young, the replicas are contributing to the increase of violence in Baltimore’s streets. In a statement to The Baltimore Sun, Young said fake guns have been used in robberies and other crimes.

Over 800 shootings have been recorded in Baltimore this year alone. Furthermore, the city is on track to surpass 300 homicides for the second year in a row.

Under the new legislation, fines are stipulated for owning, carrying or possessing a replica that could be perceived as a real firearm. The first offense could result in a $250 fine, which rises to $1000 for the second and any subsequent offenses.

The toy and replica ban was initially introduced earlier this year by Maryland State Senator Anthony Muse. However, it was eventually withdrawn due to lack of votes. It was reintroduced back in April, after the shooting of 14-year-old Dedric Colvin.

Colvin was shot in the shoulder and leg by a police detective with Baltimore Police, who mistook the teenager’s BB gun for a real firearm. The BB gun, made by Daisy Outdoor Products, was designed to look like a Beretta 92 pistol. At the time, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the spring-air gun Colvin had on his person looked almost identical to a semi-automatic pistol.

Children’s safety has been one of the main concerns addressed in the bill. Young affirms that children who play with toy guns and faithful replicas are unnecessarily put in harm’s way. Elsewhere in the country, other cases of children shot while in possession of toy guns have gained national repercussion, most notably that of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. Rice was shot and killed by police — video footage shows him holding a toy gun.

According to Councilman James B. Kraft, who introduced the proposed ban, the replicas are hard to tell apart from the real guns. Andrew G. Vetter, chief of staff of the Baltimore Police department, wrote that some replicas are made to look as real as possible, making it virtually impossible for police officers to distinguish between replica and gun while out in the field, under pressure and making quick decisions.

The National Rifle Association and other gun advocates strongly opposed the bill, calling it “hopelessly vague” and “unnecessary.” Maryland Shall Issue Inc., another gun’s rights organization, wrote to the city council, stating that the bill violates a federal law that prohibits states from banning the sale of some replicas. The response from the city department explains that the bill does not ban their sale, but their possession, therefore making it legal.

Some additional distinctions and exemptions were made to a revised version the bill. Replicas are now allowed for theatrical productions, as well as for training with a certified instructor and in certain competitions. Additionally, antique replicas are not included in the ban.

Staff for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlins-Blake have released a statement affirming the Mayor’s intention of signing the bill into law once it reaches her office. The legislation is expected to pass in December.