Several recent arrests of young males carrying BB guns on and around campus have sparked concerns among students and Yale administrators, some of whom are seeking to tighten legislation regulating the sale and transport of the weapons.
In the most recent arrest, which occurred Sunday night at 9:20 p.m. near the intersection of College and Congress Streets, a New Haven youth carrying a BB gun was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon, Yale Police Department Lt. Michael Patten said. Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said this growing trend is troubling, and the University is working to lobby for legislative reform through various law enforcement groups.
“We have been concerned about the use of simulated weapons,” she said.
Highsmith said the University is involved with two lobbying groups, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the International Association for Campus Law Enforcement.
“Generally, legislative reforms are more likely to be at the state and federal level,” Highsmith said.
Currently, Connecticut statute 23-206 states that any person who carries a BB gun on his or her person can be arrested for carrying a dangerous weapon, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of $500 and/or three years in jail.
Despite state regulations that limit the carrying of BB guns, Patten said no state laws exist prohibiting the sale of the guns. Instead, laws meant to prohibit BB gun sales are created on a citywide basis. But Patten said the City of New Haven does not have a law in place prohibiting the sale of BB guns.
“It’s kind of strange,” Patten said. “They allow you to buy them but they don’t let you carry them.”
Several stores within 10 miles of downtown New Haven sell BB guns, including Wal-Mart, The Sports Authority and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Rick Millo, the owner of Valley Firearms in nearby Shelton, Conn., said that although there is no state law that limits the age a person may purchase BB guns, many retailers develop individual policies that stipulate a certain age requirement. He said his store’s policy reflects his belief that children old enough to drive cars are old enough to buy BB guns.
“We feel that if the state says that you’re old enough to get behind a 3,000 pound vehicle, then you’re old enough to buy a BB gun,” Millo said. “Generally, we won’t sell BB guns to kids under 16 unless they are with a parent.”
Patten said he thinks most youths who carry BB guns do not realize the risks involved. In addition to risking arrest, he said, people who carry BB or pellet guns endanger themselves.
“Most of the times, these firearms are indistinguishable from real guns,” Patten said. “We are not going to wait to find out whether the gun is real.”
He said the officer who made the arrest on Sunday had a hard time distinguishing the BB gun from a Walther PPK, a type of pistol.
While Highsmith said firearm regulation is a difficult issue to approach, she said the University is making efforts to highlight the importance of supervision.
“When we can locate parents of juvenile offenders, we are talking with them about appropriate parental supervision measures,” she said.
Some students said they feel parents are ultimately to blame for not educating children about the possible consequences of carrying a BB gun.
“I definitely think it’s the parents’ responsibility,” Matthew Boshart ’06 said. “But I don’t know what the police should do about it. I think it’s a very tough situation for the police to be in to have to approach the parents.”