The tragic fatal police shooting of a 13-year-old California boy carrying a replica gun is drawing new attention to a history of foiled legislative efforts to require markings that distinguish fake firearms from real ones.
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper has detailed emotional protests alleging excessive force by Sonoma County law enforcement after a sheriff’s deputy on Tuesday fired at teenager Andy Lopez, killing him. Deputies came across the boy in his “wine country” community around 3:15 p.m. as he was walking down a road, on his way home, carrying a pellet gun fashioned to closely resemble an AK-47. The pellet gun belonged to a friend.
Taking cover behind vehicle doors, deputies told the boy, whose back was to them, to drop what they believed was a real gun. Andy began to turn toward them, according to law enforcement officials. A deputy reportedly thought the boy was raising the gun and fired. Andy was hit seven times, according to reports.
In 2012, the Center for Public Integrity reported on how pressure from retail stores and the National Rifle Association helped defeat a bill by Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, who came up with the proposal in response to similar police shootings of boys playing with replica guns.
The bill would have required replica guns like the one Andy was carrying be made with transparent bodies or in certain neon colors. The measure had the support of Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, who invoked the tragic 2010 shooting of another 13-year-old boy who was paralyzed when L.A. police officers came upon boys playing with toy guns and ended up shooting one.
“Backers said the measure (de Leon’s) was designed to try to prevent shootings of innocent young people by police officers who have to make split-second decisions,” the Center’s story said.
The Press Democrat reported that authorities are promising a full investigation, and are suggesting that the deputy on Tuesday faced one of those split-second decisions — with a heartbreaking outcome.
“The deputy's mindset was that he was fearful that he was going to be shot,” said Santa Rosa Police Lt. Paul Henry, whose department is involved in the investigation.
The newspaper reported that a witness told police he heard a deputy call out, “Put the gun down,” twice, and then firing fatal shots seconds later.
Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas issued a statement that said as the “father of two boys about this age, I can’t begin to imagine the grief this family is going through. This is a tragedy on many levels.”
Educators at Lawrence Cook Middle School, where Andy was a student, said he loved basketball and the trumpet and that other students are devastated by this death. “He was a very popular student,” the school’s assistant principal, Linsey Gannon, said. “He was a handsome young man with many friends and a lovely family. He will be missed.”
The Santa Rosa shooting occurred one day after a Sparks, Nev. 12-year-old boy killed himself at his middle school after wounding two students and killing a teacher with a semiautomatic pistol he brought to the campus.