Toy gun incident triggers new law |

Toy gun incident triggers new law

Janet Urquhart
On Sept. 27, 2003, police broke out all-too-real guns after a group of youths was seen brandishing what were later determined to be altered pellet guns in Aspen. Aspen Times photo.

Don’t play with guns – even some toy varieties – in the city of Aspen.A new ordinance, to be considered by the City Council next week, would make it against city law to alter toy guns to make them look like real weapons or to brandish them about.The proposed law stems from an incident last September that resulted in the apprehension of several teenagers at gunpoint in downtown Aspen. The youths had been goofing around with pellet guns that had been altered to look like real handguns. An alarmed bystander notified authorities, who responded with guns – the real kind – drawn.

A photograph in The Aspen Times of a teen face down on the ground, being handcuffed by one officer while another pointed an assault rifle at him, caused a stir.None of the youths faced criminal charges; instead, the police department used the incident as a springboard to educate youths and parents about the dangers of playing with toy guns. The city also began looking at how other municipalities have addressed the problem, according to Police Chief Loren Ryerson.There have been more than 31,000 incidents nationwide involving imitation guns in the last five years, he said, citing Bureau of Justice statistics.

The proposed new ordinance is something Aspen patrol officers want to see in place, Ryerson said.”I support it,” he added. “Anytime we can not have to go through those circumstances – it’s very dangerous for the people at the end of our guns, but it’s also scary for our officers to face circumstances like that.”The ordinance addresses the use of BB and pellet guns, air guns, paintball guns and imitation guns. Removing the red or orange markings that manufacturers apply to the guns – the tip-off that they are toys – will be illegal.”We’re particularly concerned with the defacing and altering of guns so they look real,” Ryerson said.

The ordinance also addresses the circumstances under which such guns may be used within the city limits. It will still be legal, for example, to fire a BB gun on private property at a proper target, but it will be illegal to display a toy gun that someone could mistake for the real thing.”Our goal is not to write tickets. Our goal is to not have these guns brandished around in public,” the chief said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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