On Friday afternoon, the New Haven Police Department issued a warning to Elm City residents about the increasing prevalence of paintball guns, facsimile firearms and BB guns in the city.
According to a statement released by the NHPD on Friday, the department has received over a dozen calls in the past week from concerned citizens reporting seeing “shootouts” or people brandishing guns that, when officers arrived on the scene, turned out to be fake or toy weapons. NHPD spokesman David Hartman said in a press conference at the NHPD headquarters on Friday afternoon that many of these incidents are related to the “gang-war issue” in New Haven. Detectives from the department’s criminal intelligence division concluded that most of these recent calls come from areas in New Haven that are embroiled in turf or gang conflicts, NHPD’s statement read.
“These groups are targeting rivals in neighborhoods such as the Hill and Newhallville,” NHPD Intel Division supervisor Karl Jacobson said in the statement. “This has got to stop before someone is seriously hurt or worse.”
Even brandishing a fake gun can lead to dangerous or deadly consequences, Hartman said at the press conference. An incident involving paintball fighting between gangs could potentially lead to retaliation with real guns, he said.
And in the context of building tension between police departments and communities across the country, Hartman said the department did not want New Haven to “become the next headline.” He warned that if police officers responding to a report cannot immediately determine if a gun is real or fake, tragic consequences could occur.
To make his point clear, Hartman stood at the podium during the press conference and held up two guns, one fake and one real; he asked the audience whether they would be able to identify any differences between the two.
“I can tell you right now that if either one of these was pointed at me by a bad guy, I would do what I can to protect my life and end theirs,” he said.
After his opening remarks, Hartman asked a police detective to show the difference between a Colt rifle — a gun carried by New Haven police officers — and one of the three “look-a-like” weapons the officers found in the possession of teenagers last week.
One difference, for example, is that when a paintball gun is held in “fire-ready position,” its air cartridge is hidden under the arm of the person holding it, unlike in the case of a real gun. Otherwise, Hartman noted, the guns look nearly identical.
“I legitimately am choking back tears right now just thinking about what could be the outcome of police officers arriving at the scene of what is being reported as a gun battle and ending up with teenagers and children shot dead because [the kids] were involved in what they thought is some type of game,” Hartman said.
Apart from the similarities they share with real weapons, fake guns also have the potential to cause legitimate injury. According to the press release, a 10-year-old girl in Newhallville was shot in the head with a BB gun on Thursday evening, and on early Friday morning, a man in Fair Haven sustained a similar injury. According to a statement by Assistant Chief Achilles “Archie” Generoso in the release, stopping this trend is currently a top priority for the department.
In order to reduce the prevalence of fake guns, Hartman said the NHPD has been working with the state attorney’s office to determine the “strictest appropriate charges” to apply to someone found with such a weapon. These charges might include breach of peace, weapon in a motor vehicle, carrying a dangerous weapon, reckless endangerment and assault charges if the weapon happens to be discharged.
He also called on the public to spread the word about the danger of fake guns and report sightings of such activity.
“Even if you have to call the police to report it’s your own son that’s involved in this activity, better do that than have to call us to tell us that your son is now laying dead in your yard because he pointed [a fake gun] at the wrong person,” Hartman said.