Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Advantages of Criminals Using Imitation Guns

In Iowa, criminals who use imitation guns are not treated as harshly under the law as are criminals who use real guns. It seems an obvious policy decision. When criminals use imitation guns, the vast majority of the risk is on the criminal. They are more likely to be shot. They are not able to shoot back. They are relying on the power of bluff and image to coerce people who they are attempting to victimize. It seems like a win-win for law and order.

In a recent AP article, a county attorney and a police chief want to change that. From usnews.com:
But police say they would support stronger deterrents in the law against using them like real weapons. The worry is twofold: First, that people are using them to commit crimes, and second, that a situation could arise where, in self-defense, a civilian or a police officer would use shoot someone displaying one.

While it's illegal to carry a real firearm in city limits without a concealed carry permit, Sioux City code does allow for the carry of lookalike "toy" weapons, such as a hand BB guns, provided they are not discharged. Police can only confiscate such weapons if they are used in a crime.

"You're not going to come across a lot of cops who have not patted someone down for weapons and found simulated weapons at one point in time," Sioux City Police Chief Rex Mueller told the Sioux City Journal . "(But) there's kind of a gap in the law there that allows police officers to act."
Woodbury County Attorney P.J. Jennings says the trauma experienced by the victim of a criminal using an imitation gun is the same as if the criminal had a real gun.  That would apply if criminals with real guns never shoot people. If the criminal has a real gun, the victim has a real chance of being shot. If the gun is fake, the chance of being shot with it is non-existent.

Iowa law has additional penalties in place for the use of "Dangerous" weapons. Dangerous weapons are defined in Iowa law. From justia.com:
Section 702.7 - Dangerous weapon.

A “dangerous weapon” is any instrument or device designed primarily for use in inflicting death or injury upon a human being or animal, and which is capable of inflicting death upon a human being when used in the manner for which it was designed, except a bow and arrow when possessed and used for hunting or any other lawful purpose. Additionally, any instrument or device of any sort whatsoever which is actually used in such a manner as to indicate that the defendant intends to inflict death or serious injury upon the other, and which, when so used, is capable of inflicting death upon a human being, is a dangerous weapon. Dangerous weapons include but are not limited to any offensive weapon, pistol, revolver, or other firearm, dagger, razor, stiletto, switchblade knife, knife having a blade exceeding five inches in length, or any portable device or weapon directing an electric current, impulse, wave, or beam that produces a high-voltage pulse designed to immobilize a person.
An imitation firearm is a relatively inexpensive tool to use in violent crimes. It competes directly with other low priced alternatives such as knives and clubs. Criminals armed with knives and clubs are more likely to cause injury to their victims than are criminals armed with guns. The result would be amplified with imitation guns, as the risk of gunshot injuries would be eliminated.

An imitation firearm that is not designed for inflicting death or injury is not a "dangerous weapon".

Committing a robbery with an imitation firearms has a maximum sentence of 10 years, while using a real weapon results in a maximum  sentence of 25 years, all else being equal.

California differentiates between imitation guns and real guns in their laws on brandishing.  From shouselaw.com:

    1. Brandishing  a  pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person... in a rude, angry, or threatening manner... in a public place:
      • a minimum three (3) month, to a maximum one (1) year, jail sentence, and/or
      • a maximum $1,000 fine.92
  1. Brandishing any other firearm... or brandishing a firearm in other than a public place... in the same manner:  not less than three (3) months in county jail.93
  2. Brandishing an imitation firearm: not less than 30 days in county jail.94
Should the use of imitation firearms in crime be subject to the same penalties as real firearms?

Is it good policy for the penalties of using imitation firearms in crime to be less?

The criminal is putting the victim(s) at lower risk, and is putting themselves at higher risk. This is behavior that should be encouraged. Society wins.

Encouraging criminals to take on more of the risk for anti-social behavior is a positive thing.

Criminal law generally has lower penalties for crimes with lower risk for the victim. Non-confrontational crimes such as burglary have lower penalties than home invasions.

Would you prefer to confront a robber armed with an imitation gun instead of a real one?  Would you prefer to confront a robber armed with an imitation gun instead of a knife or club?

Many criminals are ignorant of the law. Incentives do not always have a significant effect.  Many criminals intuitively believe using an imitation gun is safer than using a real gun. In this case, the law would reinforce an existing belief, so the chance of success is greater.

Are criminals using more imitation guns?  Are there any negatives to this trend?

©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

Gun Watch


Unknown said...

Hi Dean, great article. I agree with you about less charging criminal when they use fake guns but. If wso, we must charge more the victim or good guy who shoot the bad with fake gun. I think its not a good deal. Robbing/threatening with fake guns is under the same intention, only without the intention to shoot. Crime is here. Recognize a fake gun is not easy under stress/threat. Continue your good job dean, be proud to have qnd fight for the 2nd amend. Regards from France. Vincent

ScienceABC123 said...

Hindsight may give rise to the idea that using a fake gun isn't as bad as using a real gun. However, when you are being robbed by someone holding what appears to be a gun, you really don't care about hindsight.

ExpatNJ said...

Should use of imitation firearms ... be subject to same penalties as real firearms?


Is it good policy for penalties of using imitation firearms in crime to be less?


Would you prefer to confront a robber armed with an imitation gun instead of a real one? Would you prefer to confront a robber armed with an imitation gun instead of a knife or club?

"Why did you reload and shoot him another 6 times?" - Prosecutor.

Are criminals using more imitation guns?


Are there any negatives to this trend?