Suspicious weapons turn out to be pellet guns
FAIRFIELD — Local law enforcement responded to a couple of incidents Tuesday in Fairfield in which pellet guns were mistaken for real guns.
In one incident, a caller reported a 12-year-old boy was walking in the 300 block of South C Street at about 4 p.m. with a rifle slung over his shoulder. Fairfield police officers and Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene and ordered the boy to drop the weapon and get down on the ground. Upon their approach, law enforcement learned the weapon was not a rifle but a pellet gun made to look like a rifle.
The press release from the police department states, “The youth was ordered to the ground at gun point.” Fairfield Police Capt. Dave Thomas said he’s not sure if the officers were actually pointing their guns at the boy or if they simply had their guns drawn and by their side.
Pellet guns and other non-lethal guns are manufactured with orange barrels to signify they are toy guns. However, in this incident, the orange barrel had been taped over to make the gun appear real. Thomas said that, apart from its orange barrel, the pellet gun in question looks just like an AR-15 rifle that law enforcement carry.
Thomas said the boy cooperated fully with law enforcement and was not placed in handcuffs or under arrest since he appeared to have done nothing illegal. He said pellet guns do not require a permit nor is their use restricted by age. After determining the pellet gun was not stolen, law enforcement informed one of the boy’s parents of the situation and he was free to go.
The other incident occurred about 30 minutes earlier in the day in the 500 block of West Madison Avenue. A caller reported three males were outside a vehicle looking at what appeared to be .22-caliber rifles, and the caller believed it was a gun deal because the subjects were being secretive and trying to hide the guns. The caller stated the men got the rifles from the car’s trunk and pointed them down an alley.
Police responded to the scene but the car with the men inside was gone. After police searched the area for a little while, the car returned to the residence. Police discovered the weapons were pellet guns. They interviewed one of the men who said he was showing the pellet guns to his friends. The police made sure the pellet guns were not stolen and then concluded the investigation. Since there were no reports of the men threatening anyone with the pellet guns or firing them in the city, Thomas said there was nothing left to investigate. The press release stated the pellet guns did not have an orange barrel.
Thomas said police cannot rest easily upon seeing orange on a gun’s barrel. Officers in other parts of Iowa found that gang members have painted the barrels of real guns orange to disguise them as fake firearms. Thomas said officers have to assume all firearms are potentially lethal until they can observe them up-close.
Another issue that complicates the police officers’ job is judging whether an armed individual is a threat to public safety. Thomas said gun owners with permits are almost never the ones to cause problems. Nevertheless, he said law enforcement have to be careful when dealing with individuals carrying guns.
“Iowans have a right to carry, but other people have a right to be safe,” he said. “Someone on the force is assaulted at least once a month. Our officers are pushed and hit, often trying to arrest an intoxicated person. You can be safe by creating distance with a person armed with their fists or their feet, but you can’t with someone armed with a gun. A gun in a 12-year-old’s hands is as deadly as a gun in the hands of a 40-year old man.”
Though pellet guns require no registration and can be fired by a person of any age, they are illegal to discharge within the city limits. In fact, city code forbids the firing of any projectile in the city limits.