A 13-year-old kid was shot to death by police officers for holding a fake gun that resembled an AK-47. Why do these guns exist? Why is something so easily avoidable still putting our kids in danger?

On Oct. 22, 13-year-old Andy Lopez was walking to his friend's house after school in the northern California city of Santa Rosa (which is, incidentally, my hometown). Carrying a plastic airsoft (fake) gun without the federally mandated orange tip, Lopez was spotted by police who thought it was an AK-47. The officers claim they pulled up behind him, reported him on their radio and hid behind their car doors as they demanded that he drop the weapon. According to the officers, he did not drop the gun, but rather turned around to face them, which pointed the alleged weapon at the officers.

They then fired eight rounds, hitting him seven times. He died on the scene.

I have so many questions, not the least of which is, "Why seven times? Why couldn't they have shot him in the leg?"

Recent articles have reported that approximately 10 seconds passed from the radio call to the shooting. That seems rather trigger-happy, doesn't it? Ten seconds?

Was it racially charged? Were the police officers more quick to shoot because it was a poor, Latino community plagued with gang violence and crime?

How did the alleged "firearms expert" Officer Erick Gelhaus (the man who shot Lopez) not notice that this was a child in the middle of the day carrying a fake gun? I know so little about policing, fake (or real) guns for that matter, but it seems to me that an "expert" in the field would not jump to shooting a kid literally within seconds of seeing him.

Community tragedy

The community is torn apart. An existing gap between the Latino community in Santa Rosa and the police force has widened. According to a board member of the local school board, "one of the bigger issues… was that law enforcement needs to know the neighborhoods they patrol, not just that it's 'high gang/crime activity,' but where people and kids hang out" (source). Apparently Lopez was walking through a field where kids often played with fake guns.

The FBI has launched a formal investigation of the case. As details are still arising, it's difficult to thoroughly analyze the societal/cultural context of the tragedy, but my biggest question is this: Why do these toys even exist?

Why exactly do our kids need to be playing with guns that look virtually identical to deadly weapons?

This is not an isolated incident. According to Time, "The Department of Justice says the federal government doesn't keep ongoing statistics on the trend, but in a 1990 paper funded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. police reported that they had used or threatened to use force 'in a confrontation where an imitation gun had been mistaken for a real firearm' at a rate of about 200 incidents per year. The paper's authors suggested that this number was 'significantly underreported'" (source).

So again, here's what I don't understand: Why would we manufacture guns that can so easily be mistaken for real guns?

Why in the hell do exact-replica guns even exist? What good do they do? Somebody explain to me their purpose, beyond earning money for more heartless companies making crap toys in China and selling them in Walmart?

In a nation of Sandy Hook, Columbine and countless other tragedies involving children and real firearms, in a nation already walking a razor's edge of fear, watching kids kill kids, why in the hell do exact-replica guns even exist? What good do they do? Somebody explain to me their purpose, beyond earning money for more heartless companies making crap toys in China and selling them in Walmart?

Yeah, yeah I know. Fake guns must have an orange tip in them. It's the law. And yet, look how easy it (obviously) is to remove the orange tip. As a mother of three kids, I'm the first to back up the claim that if something can be removed from a toy, it will get removed, and it will get lost. Not if, when. Period.

So we have this boy walking to his friend's house to play after school, and he's got this gun that looks real, and these cops are like, "We're in the ghetto and here's a kid with a gun," and you know the fear and memories of all the violence pulsing through our society came flooding into their brains, they yelled "Drop it." Maybe he didn't hear. Maybe he was lost in his own thoughts. Maybe he was turning around to see what was going on.

And now he's dead.

Why?

If the toy were orange or green he would probably not be dead.

If the toy were translucent he would probably not be dead.

He's dead because we're a twisted society more interested in money-making than simple logic. If all fake guns were florescent orange, they would never be mistaken for real guns. Well, maybe they could in some strange extreme circumstances, but it would be highly unlikely.

But kids want real-looking guns! They want replicas of the weapons that actually kill people! It's only fun that way!

Yeah, sorry, you're not convincing me. In fact, that just makes me sicker. The idea that kids want real-looking guns so they can really pretend to shoot and kill people, well I don't know, I don't understand.

At what point does it hit us that this is not fun, and it's not funny? When an 8th grader dies in a shower of bullets holding a worthless plastic toy?

When a thousand kids die?

When it's our own kid who dies?

This is it, people. This is our world. And this is why my kids don't play with anything beyond squirt guns, and maybe the occasional bright-yellow Nerf missile launcher. But they're still not safe. What if my kid grabs their friend's toy gun and walks to the park with it, and the police come and he doesn't drop it quickly enough, and then...

I can't.

For Andy Lopez, and the others. Rest in peace, kid.

More on gun safety

Forget gun control, let's start with video game control
Mothers against guns
Obama and the NRA are wrong about gun control

Photo credit: Getty Images

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