Some thoughts on a tragedy

Monday, December 8, 2014

It was my wife who interrupted my train of thought. “Did you see this thing on the news? A boy got shot in Cleveland, and they say he had a pellet gun.”

“Oh boy,” I thought. “This sucks.”

The facts of the case, as reported by the Associated Press on Nov. 26, appear to be as follows: “Tamir Rice was shot Saturday (Nov. 22, 2014) by an officer responding to a call about someone with a gun near a playground. Police say the boy’s airsoft gun looked like a real firearm and was missing an orange safety indicator. Police say Tamir pulled it from his waistband after being told to raise his hands.”

A couple of Crosman airsoft pistols showing the orange indicator tip.

A couple of Crosman airsoft pistols showing the orange indicator tip.

What was originally reported to be a pellet gun turned out to be an airsoft pistol. Airsoft rifles and pistols are replicas of firearms that shoot 6 mm plastic BBs. Airsoft guns are considered to be non-lethal and, for the most part, non-injurious (eye protection is required and the only other airsoft injury that I have heard of is a chipped tooth), and they are used for target shooting, scenario play, firearms practice, and force-on-force training by various government agencies. By law, all airsoft pistols and rifles sold in the United States are equipped with an orange safety tip that indicates that they are not actual firearms. A Wikipedia report on the shooting says that the orange safety tip on Rice’s airsoft pistol was “removed.”

This is a lamentable situation; any way you play it, it is a tragedy for everyone involved: for Tamir Rice, his family, and for the officers involved in the shooting.

My daughter, a grown woman with a career of her own, said emphatically, “He (meaning Tamir Rice) shouldn’t be dead.”

I spoke with a friend who is a gun-carrying sworn officer to find out some of the basics of police training. Police are trained to regard any situation with a firearm as serious and to regard any report of a weapon as a real weapon until proven otherwise. They are also trained to consider “context.” A person with a gun in the woods may have a reason to be there (he’s hunting), whereas a person with a gun outside a grocery store or on a playground is a far different situation.

“Perception is incredibly important,” my friend said. “If you point an airsoft gun out a window and someone sees it and thinks it is a real gun, people are going to treat you like it is a real gun. It doesn’t matter what you intended, what matters is what the other person perceives.”

Further, police are trained to address the threat – that’s their job. If someone reports “a person with a gun,” the police have to deal with it. To do otherwise, is to risk that the “person with a gun” may kill or injure others.

If the police perceive that they are under threat of deadly physical force – for example, by a person reaching for a gun or pointing a gun at them – they are trained to respond to the threat of deadly physical force with deadly physical force to defend themselves or someone else. Further, they are trained to shoot until the threat is neutralized. A kid who is taking an airsoft gun to a place where it may be perceived as a real weapon is putting himself in harm’s way, and you can’t hit reset afterwards and play the game again.

So what does that mean for the readers of this blog? First, don’t walk around in public areas with an airsoft gun, air rifle or air pistol. Don’t show it and don’t point it at people you don’t know. Keep it on private property (or other areas where it is proper to have it, like a gun range), and don’t leave the property with it. If traveling in a car, make sure that it can’t be seen. And don’t remove, cover, paint or tape over the orange safety tip on airsoft pistols and rifles; it could make a misunderstanding over whether an airsoft “weapon” is real even more dangerous.

If you are a parent, drill these principles into your kid’s heads. Make sure that they understand that’s it is not what they intend, but what others perceive, that can make the difference between fun and tragedy in handling airsoft guns and pellet and BB guns.

Further, if you will be shooting on your property, and there is the possibility that the neighbor may see “a person with a gun,” talk to them ahead of time, and make sure they understand what you are doing, and that you are concerned for everyone’s safety.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

–          Jock Elliott



  1. RidgeRunner says:

    Well said.

    Yes, it is a tragedy that a boy was killed, but when are we supposed to be responsible for the consequences of our actions?

    How did this boy get one in the first place? Was it given to him by one of his parents? A friend? Who removed the tip?

  2. SteveInMN says:

    Back in the day, my neighborhood buddies and I would walk right down the street of our subdivision to our happy hunting ground, Crosmans propped over our shoulders. Much different world.

    I’ve always thought a Smart felon (were there such a thing) would be wise to wrap orange tape around the muzzle of his real weapon. The whole orange tape thing is such a farce.

  3. Thomas Zahay says:

    Your advise is sadly good, but you miss the problem. Police shootings of unarmed citizens is a result of poor situational decision training. Also the police are not solders and must show more restraint in these cases. Cop in one shooting killed a teenage boy that came to the door with a game controller in his hand, this is simply unacceptable.

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      Thanks for your comments. I think that we can agree that no one — including the police — wants to see innocents get shot. At the heart of dilemma are the problems of perception and decision: who presents a real threat and who doesn’t and what should be done? Since we cannot control the actions of others, the best we can do is to control our own actions and not take airsoft replicas or airguns to places where they can perceived as firearms.

  4. Robert Carlisle says:

    Unfortunately, we are all human and prone to make mistakes. Whether it is a lack of awareness on the part of the youngster with a modified AirSoft gun or the mistaken perception of the threat presented to law enforcement by that youngster and the AirSoft gun, this is an undeniable tragedy no matter how you cut it.
    When I was growing up and began shooting and hunting with airguns and firearms, I was taught awareness and respect were key to remaining safe and having a good time. Sadly, I do not think youngsters these days generally get that type education. All too often, we see the tragic results.

  5. Johnie Tillman says:

    I agree with much of the discussion and what seems to be the “missing link” is more training for those carrying these AirSoft, pellet and other such rifles or pistols. One of the points for using pellet guns is to teach weapon safety. In addition to that training should be instructions on what to do if one confronts authorities while carrying these pellet guns. The instructions repeatedly notes, “These are not toys and should be handled as loaded.” Let us return to respecting our authorities, because they have been placed in these positions for a reason.

  6. Nicholas Harding says:

    It is time that we arm the police with some less than lethal weapons like the Laser Dazzler. In a team of 2 cops, if one cop had blasted the kid with the Laser Dazzler, he would have been disabled for 3-5 minutes, may have vomited, etc., the 2d copy could cover the situation with a lethal weapon.

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      That is an interesting idea, but I’m not a policeman, and I’m not sure what they would think about facing a potentially lethal weapon with a non-lethal weapon.

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