BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Just after 4 p.m. on April 27, a 13-year-old took off running through the streets of Southeast Baltimore after police spotted him with a gun.
A foot chase began, and when he didn’t drop his weapon, an officer shot him.
It was a bloody scene outside the McKim Community Center, and the teen’s gun lay in the middle of the street.
But as it turns out, it wasn’t a real gun. It was a replica. A dead ringer for a real Beretta handgun, yes, but it doesn’t fire bullets.
It’s supposed to have an orange tip to show that it’s fake, but it was painted over.
“There is no way on this Earth that I could tell you from looking at that gun that it wasn’t real,” Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said at a press conference the next day.
Doctor Ted Sutton is a former gang member turned minister and youth mentor. He tells WJZ that he knows the teen who was shot.
For this young man, I know 100 percent when he came out that day, he probably wanted to show the gun off, and then it just got real immediately.”
And while the boy’s gun and others like it may be fake, the danger is very real, for both police officers and community members.
“If I take this gun and I pull it out, aside from this orange tip, you’re not going to be able to tell the difference,” Agent Dave Cheplak with the Baltimore Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says. “And if that orange tip is painted over– there’s no way to tell the difference.”
And that’s a huge problem for law enforcement.
“There’s a booming industry throughout the United States. Walk-in stores that you can walk in and pick firearms out, obviously the internet, phone sales. It’s easy to go online, pick the type of replica that you want and have it sent to your door.”
It’s also impossible to track how many replica weapons are on the streets.
“There’s a million things that go through an officer’s mind in a situation like that and the last thing that they should be thinking about is whether or not the gun that’s being pulled on them or pointed at them is a real gun,” Cheplak says.
So, can anything be done to keep these dangerous weapons out of the hands of children?
“It’s important for parents to pay close attention to these issues,” he says. “It’s tragic when these things happen and you really feel for any of the families, but you also feel concerned about the fact that, how did a replica weapon like that wind up in the hands of a child and you say to yourself things need to be done and people need to understand that there are repercussions to letting kids play with these items.”