The Gilroy City Council voted unanimously Sept. 9 to amend the city code, adding a new definition of firearms and banning so-called imitation firearms, with some exceptions.
“Imitation firearms”—air guns, pellet guns, and BB guns that resemble real firearms—are increasingly being used in crimes across Gilroy and the United States, Capt. Pedro Espinoza told the council before the vote.
Espinoza told the council there had been seven incidents of imitation firearms used “in the commission of crimes” since the beginning of 2019. Most recently, he said an imitation firearm was used in a domestic violence incident in the city.
In addition, citizens have called the police station to report seeing someone carrying a large weapon in the open, and the weapon turns out to be an imitation firearm.
State law prohibits the open carrying of imitation firearms and requires that imitation firearms have orange caps or other features that distinguish it from a real weapon.
“There are documented cases of officers who have been forced to use deadly force against a suspect who was later found to be in possession of an imitation firearm,” said the staff report. “Furthermore, many times individuals suffering a mental health crisis will use these imitation firearms to commit ‘suicide by cop.’ ”
The staff report said an imitation firearm often cannot be identified until it’s held and examined closely. The legally required orange plastic plugs can be removed from imitation firearms, said the staff report or “wrapped in black tape to resemble a real weapon.’’
The biggest risks with imitation firearms, according to Espinoza’s report to the council, are officer’s reactions and the reactions of others as if it were a real weapon. The psychological damage is the same as if someone were confronted with a real weapon, said the staff report, and when acting in a seemingly life-or-death situation, officers may react as if confronted with a working, lethal firearm.
A study done in 1990 for the U.S. Congress by the Police Executive Research Forum was cited in the staff report given to council. The study found that in four years 458 police departments reported imitation firearms being used in 5,654 robberies and 8,128 assaults.