December close call revealed as measure to ban look-alikes from schools is introduced
Hartford - Just before Christmas break, a teacher at Stonington High School called police after spotting a 15-year-old student behind the school pointing a handgun at the head of another teen.
The first officer to arrive screamed for the teen to drop the gun, but he didn't immediately comply, according to Police Chief J. Darren Stewart.
"They had a little bit of a stand-off for just a second or two. He was pleading with the kid to drop the gun, and finally he did," Stewart said.
It turned out that the gun was an air soft gun whose owner had removed the red-orange tip that identifies it as a replica firearm that shoots plastic pellets. Without the tip, the gun looked very similar to the .45- caliber firearm carried by Stonington police.
The incident came as a surprise Thursday to most Stonington residents as police and school officials had never before publicized it.
"The officer was placed in an awful, awful position at that point in time about the use of deadly physical force," Stewart said. "The kids really didn't think it was that big a deal."
On Thursday, Stewart and Capt. Jerry Desmond joined state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, at the Capitol to announce that the Select Committee on Children, which Urban co-chairs, was introducing a bill that would ban all "look-alike firearms" from school grounds, including paintball and BB guns.
The bill also would make it illegal to remove or cover up the red-orange tip of realistic-looking fake guns.
Urban said violating either provision of the proposed law would be a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months in a jail and a fine up to $500.
State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, is also backing the measure.
"We don't want to see a tragedy," Urban said.
Stewart said that "kids are out there with these things, and they don't recognize the consequences of them."
"In a post-Columbine high school and other tragic school shootings across the country, police are going to respond very swiftly and really get down to business whenever there's a threat of firearms on school grounds," he said.
Stewart declined to discuss any other details of the incident.
When asked for details such as the school at which the incident occurred, whether the students were punished and why they had the gun behind the school, Superintendent of Schools Leanne Masterjoseph issued this statement Thursday night:
"Stonington's Public Schools were grateful for the manner in which Stonington Police responded to our call during after school hours on December 19, 2011. While unable to comment on circumstances pertaining to specific students, we are thankful that officers quickly determined circumstances did not require use of force and that events were quickly resolved."
The Day has filed a freedom of information request seeking release of the police report of the incident.
The bill's proponents cited cases in Texas and Florida where police did fire on someone who they mistakenly believed held a real gun.
"You can see where something like this can end in a tragedy with nobody's intent to do anything wrong, and that's why this legislation may be necessary," Desmond said.
Police officials brought a small cache of toy guns with them Thursday to demonstrate how similar in appearance to real firearms the fakes can be.
"This is a SIG-Sauer P245 .45 caliber handgun," said Police Chief Matthew Reed of South Windsor, holding aloft his department-issued gun. "This is a toy gun ... There's not a big difference."
State Rep. Kim Fawcett, D-Fairfield, admitted that she initially was skeptical of Urban's crusade against fake guns in schools. She assumed it was only the real guns one needed to worry about. But Fawcett quickly changed her views.
"I'm just completely flabbergasted and amazed that a toy gun looks like this," she said. "Parents all across the state of Connecticut have no idea that these types of toy guns even exist."
The bill defines a "look-alike firearm" as an imitation gun, "so similar in coloration and overall appearance to an existing firearm as to lead a reasonable person to perceive that the device is a firearm."
While an early version of the bill would have outlawed look-alikes within 1,500 feet of a school, Urban said the current proposal only bans fake guns from school grounds because private residences are often near schools.
One exception to the proposed restriction on obscuring red-orange tips would allow such fake guns for theatrical, television and film purposes. The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association is also backing the bill.