The Police Department will ask the City Council this week to ban adults and juveniles from carrying BB, air, paintball or pellet guns in public if they aren’t in a case, unloaded.
The request comes after a weekend in which the department received more than 150 reports of vandals shooting out windows with BB guns.
However, police Capt. Bernie Walther said Tuesday that the move to ban the carrying of BB guns and similar guns in public has been in the works for more than a year as part of the city’s initiative called Enhance Our Neighborhoods.
“I wish there was some way to get rid of them all,” Sandy Bell, president of CR Neighborhoods and president of her own neighborhood association, Lincolnway Village, said Tuesday. “Even when they’re not shooting out car windows, they’re shooting at neighbors’ dogs or something else.”
Walther noted that the cities of Iowa City and Waterloo are among those that already have bans on carrying BB guns and those like them.
Such a public ban is intended to reduce vandalism. But Walther said the ban also will lessen the chance that a police officer or a citizen will shoot someone carrying what looks like a real gun.
“We’re running into kids with these things tucked in their waistband, and sooner or later somebody is going to get seriously hurt because someone is going to take that as a real firearm,” he said. “I’m sure you’ve seen what some of these look like. They’re definitely realistic looking.”
From 2003 through 2008, the Police Department received an average of 1,170 criminal mischief reports each year involving BB guns, paintballs and similar items. Walther said that total is more than 50 percent of all the criminal mischief reports that come into the department.
At $200 a car window, that’s about $1.4 million in property damage, he added.
Walther said there also have been additional crimes against people in which BB guns or other similar items have been used or displayed.
A big part of the problem for police officers is that they can catch a person with a BB gun in the vicinity of vandalism but can’t prove the person did the shooting. With a law change, it will be a crime, a simple misdemeanor, to have the gun. Juveniles will be brought to the police station and their parents summoned, Walther said.
The ban, he noted, does not prohibit a parent from going to an outdoor range for target practice or from taking a child to such a venue for practice.
He said the change in ordinance will treat the BB-gun-like products no differently than firearms. Adults who own firearms can’t carry them in public and they can’t fire them at home except in self-defense, Walther noted.
Officers, he added, will have the option to use discretion.
“If little Johnny just got his little Daisy Red Ryder (BB gun) for his birthday and he’s running down the street to show his buddy, obviously, there’s officer discretion in that,” Walther said.