12 year old boy fatally shot by police holding replica firearm

There has been much buzz surrounding this tragic incident in Cleveland, OH, and frankly most of it ignores either the facts of the case or the realities of the situation. Let’s take a look at what happened.

According to the AP, as found at Police One, the boy was waving around a gun and scaring people at a playground. The 911 caller said he did not know if it was real or not. The caller said he told dispatch he thought it was probably fake. Now considering how realistic many of these items are, SEE PHOTO HERE  it makes me wonder on what basis the caller, who was at a distance, decided that this was “probably fake” other than his disbelief that a 12 year old boy could possibly be threatening people with a real gun.

Most major cities are grappling with youth violence. Minneapolis started to deal with this as a “public health threat” when they realized that over 50% of their violent crime was committed by juveniles. See here and here.  I recall an incident this spring where a 13 year old stabbed someone in the neck at a bus stop and nearly killed his robbery victim. In major cities, this is just the way things are.

Now to address the officer’s response. As a firearms and permit to carry instructor, and court-approved expert witness I am quite aware of the realities of situations like these. As both a civilian and a Protective Agent, I have been in them myself. For those who are not familiar, the rules are rather basic. If you are confronted or confront someone, regardless of age, who has been threatening people with what is reported to be a firearm you had best be doing so with a firearm if one is available to you and you can get to it in time.

When a command is given to someone at gunpoint to raise their hands, and they reach for a gun they are very likely to be shot. People are pointing out that the boy never pointed it at the officer. I do not know of any professional level training that tells you to wait until you are being shot at to defend yourself, and the difference between being shot at and pointing the gun is a matter of a fraction of a second.

Another consideration that needs to be taken into account is the rather anemic performance of handguns when it comes to the time required to incapacitate a suspect. The magic one shot stops where the suspect instantly falls down incapable of action is strictly a creature of hollywood. This is why, with handguns, shot placement and volume are the keys to survival.

So when the officer responded, saw a gun on a table or bench, saw the suspect put it in his waistband and then confronted him there was no reason to believe this was anything other than a real firearm. Not only had the orange tip been altered or removed that would identify it as a replica, criminals have been known to paint real firearms to look like toys. He had also not been informed of the caller’s belief that he thought it fake.

There are more things that we do not know about what happened in this case, but on the information available this sounds like a case of legitimate self-defense.

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