A Fake Gun Led to Real Police Shooting a Kid in Ohio

A 12-year-old named Tamir Rice was killed by a cop in Cleveland on Saturday afternoon.

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Nov 24 2014, 6:01pm

Photo of Airsoft guns via Flickr user  ​Don

It's actually pretty difficult to tell the difference between a real and fake gun these days—two ye​ars ago, a man even turned a Super Soaker (some of which, creepily enough, now look somewhat like actual machine guns) into a bona fide shotgun.

The blurry line between ersatz and authentic led to a 12-year-old named Tamir Rice being killed by a cop in Cleveland on Saturday afternoon. He was shot by police after a bystander thought the toy might have ​been the real thing and called 911.

Rice was playing on the swings when he pulled out a toy gun and started waving it around, as kids will do. Although federal law requires toy manufacturers to put orange tips on gun replicas, his had been apparently removed, and though it's legal to carry around a gun in public in Ohio, the presence of a kid with a plastic weapon apparently spooked someone badly enough to call the authorities. 

"There's a guy in there with a pistol. You know, it's probably fake, but he's like pointing it at everybody," the caller told 911. When police arrived, the boy was told to drop the weapon. When he reached for it instead, he was shot.

Although it sounds ridiculous, this is not the first time someone has died over a fake gun in Ohio—not even the first time this year. In August, the cops killed a man named John Crawford III in a Dayton-area Walmart. The 22-year-old had picked up a pellet gun inside the store, which officers mistook for a real weapon. According to surveill​ance footage, Crawford was ambushed by two officers and taken down almost immediately after being told to drop his weapon. The whole senseless thing stemmed from the fact that fed​eral law doesn't require orange tips or other telltale signs to be put on BB or pellet guns.

In order to prevent this kind of confusion in the future, State Representative Alicia Reece is calling for all BB and Airsoft weapons to come equipped with a fluorescent strip. The Cincinnati lawmaker has been on the issue for a while: When Crawford was shot, she was the one who pushed for the surveillance tape to to be released. Now, according t​o a press release, she's introducing new legislation based on a bill in California that was proposed after two people were killed for wielding fake guns in that state.

"The shooting of John Crawford III devastated many people in our community and left us looking for answers," Reece said in a statement. "This bill is but one small step in addressing this tragedy and helping to prevent future deadly confrontations with someone who clearly presents little to no immediate threat or danger. With Saturday's deadly shooting of a 12-year-old in Cleveland, it is becoming crystal-clear that we need this law in Ohio."

Follow Allie Conti on ​Twitter.

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