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Fake Or Real Gun: Can You Tell The Difference?

A 14-year-old boy was shot by an officer Wednesday in Baltimore after raising a BB gun that appeared to be a real semi-automatic weapon. Police departments have warned about the difficulty in differentiating between the two.

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One is a real handgun, the other is fake.

Baltimore's police commissioner wanted to stress the similarities between the two during a press conference Thursday, and put a real Beretta and a BB gun next to each other.

"Which one is real and which one is the weapon?" a reporter asked.

"What do you think?" Commissioner Kevin Davis countered.

"You don't have to answer that," Davis said after the reporter hesitated a few seconds. "You can't even tell where you are sitting. So just put yourself in the shoes of these police officers who are in a very emotional moment and are chasing someone with a gun."

Police said 14-year-old Dedric Colvin ran from two detectives Wednesday holding what they thought was a handgun, then turned toward officers before a 12-year-veteran of the department fired at the boy.

Colvin is expected to survive, but Davis said officers had every reason to believe the weapon was real.

"The question is what is a (14-year-old) doing with one of these in his hand?" Davis said.

Just a few months earlier, however, a Maryland legislator had proposed a bill to prevent just that.

State delegate Jill P. Carter, who represents Baltimore, introduced HB 0879 in February, a bill that would have banned the sale, possession, or use of any imitation handguns like BB guns, Airsoft guns, or replicas.

Under the proposed law, replica or non-lethal guns would have been required to be a bright color like yellow, green, or pink, or have a large stamp that would easily make it identifiable as a toy.

But the bill was short-lived and by March, Carter withdrew the legislation.

Carter told the New York Daily News the bill received little support and stiff opposition from gun lobbyists.

"This legislation is poorly drafted and short-sighted," the NRA's Institute for Legislative Affairs wrote about the bill. "It will ban the BB and pellet guns that many parents use to teach their children safe gun handling and marksmanship."

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A similar bill was also introduced in Ohio just weeks after the killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy also shot by police who said he reached for a handgun.

It, too, was a BB gun.

Federal law already makes it illegal to manufacture, ship, or receive a toy gun "look-alike" unless it has some sort of marking like an orange plug at the barrel. However, the law only applies to those that don't fire any kind of ammunition.

Some states have been successful in passing similar laws. In California, BB and airsoft guns are required to have fluorescent markings. Like in Ohio and Maryland, that legislation was also inspired by the police shooting of a young boy who was carrying what officers thought was a real weapon.

Critics of the Maryland legislation, however, argue the bills fail to address the real issues that have caused the tragic shootings.

"If an officer were faced with something the size and shape of a real firearm, but in a color like orange or bright pink, they would still need to use just as much caution and be just as apprehensive, as real firearms can be and often are, painted bright colors," Jeremy Tolliver, who helped organize protests and a Facebook page in opposition of the Maryland law, told BuzzFeed News.

When the bill was introduced, Tolliver said he contacted retailers and owners to oppose the bill.

"The solution to that problem is better police training and threat analysis," he said.

Police departments across North America, however, often warn citizens about replica handguns, and the difficulty in differentiating between the two.

"The only way to tell which one of those guns are real or not is to be on the receiving end of that gun, and the trigger is pulled," Davis said during the press conference Thursday. "That's not something the community wants."

Law enforcement critics, however, have pointed to the quick reaction to shoot by some officers as the real issue at stake. In Tamir Rice's case, for example, the officer who fired did so immediately after getting out of the patrol car.

Many of the victims of the shooting, they point out, are young black teens.

"Fourteen year old boys play with BB guns all over the country every day without getting shot by police," the ACLU of Maryland said in a Facebook post. "It dehumanizes black children when law enforcement and our society so quickly seek to justify a shoot-to-kill response when a black child in East Baltimore does the same thing."


Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Salvador Hernandez at salvador.hernandez@buzzfeed.com.

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