Police Commissioner Rodney F. Querrard on Thursday issued a reminder to citizens in the territory that carrying replica firearms, especially in a public setting, can be dangerous.
Querrard’s statement was prompted by a recent incident on St. Croix, in which police officers making a traffic stop reacted to the sight of a gun, and a tragic stateside incident in which a young boy lost his life.
The stateside incident took place Oct. 22 in Santa Rosa, Calif. A 13-year-old boy carrying a replica of an assault rifle to a friend’s house was shot dead by a sheriff’s deputy who believed the gun was real, authorities said.
"The item he was carrying so much looked like an AK-47 assault rifle, which is capable of discharging numerous body armor piercing rounds in a short time, that when confronted by police, and turning the way he did, resulted in the officers taking action as they were trained, resulting in the boy’s death," Querrard said.
In the St. Croix incidents, police officers stopped a car on a traffic violation Friday night and spotted what appeared to be a handgun on the floor of the car. The potential weapon turned out to be a replica, but the officers didn’t know that when they reacted.
"Officers are not trained to ask an individual if what they are carrying is real or not," Querrard said. "They are trained to stop the threat, no matter the age of the person in question. A 10-year-old with a firearm is just as dangerous as a 50-year-old with a firearm. Any person holding what appears to be a firearm and brandishes it in what an officer deems as a threatening manner, will in most instances result in that officer or officers taking necessary action that could result in serious injury or death of that person."
In the St. Croix incident, the passengers were ordered out of the vehicle and a second firearm, a replica AK47 rifle, was found in the vehicle. Police patted down the passengers for safety and discovered a genuine Smith and Wesson .38 caliber handgun tucked in the waist of one passenger, later identified as 21-year-old Elijah Smith of Estate La Grande Princess, who was arrested.
"Manufactures are making pellet guns and paintball guns to resemble, as close as possible, almost all makes and models of real firearms – handguns and long guns," the commissioner said. "This is a nightmare for law enforcement personnel and should also be a serious concern for parents, friends and family who purchase them as a gift, for especially our youth."
The commissioner asked residents of the territory to think twice before acquiring or carrying replica firearms.
"I am asking each of you to be aware of the possible ramifications of having one of these ‘imitation type firearms’ – pellet gun or other. It would be in everyone’s best interest not to allow minors, or adults for that matter, to brandish these items as if they were actual firearms in a public or private setting," he said.
"An officer called to investigate a reported brandishing of a firearm is going to take whatever action he or she deems necessary for their safety, and the safety of our citizens, as per training protocol. The same can happen if a licensed firearm holder is accosted by someone brandishing what he or she believe to be a firearm. Their actions could be justified and deadly," Querrard said.
"Please rethink purchasing these imitation firearms for your loved ones, family or friends. The decision not to make that purchase would be in the best interest of all."