(City of Grand Rapids) — The ordinance, which goes into effect April 1, regulates pneumatic guns, other non-firearm projectile weapons and imitation firearm toys. It was approved by the City Commission in December as part of the City’s safe community strategic priority. The ordinance is designed to prevent the fear, confusion and unsafe situations that pneumatic and imitation weapons can create.
“This elevates our commitment to community and police working together for a safe community,” City Manager Mark Washington said. “It also promotes mutual respect between youth and police.”
Pneumatic guns and imitation firearms have contributed to public safety concerns because they look like real guns, Payne said.
“So much so that residents have called 911 believing they have seen real guns, with police officers responding to what they think are real firearm calls,” he said. “These situations create challenges for police officers who, in a split second, have to determine whether they are real.
“This ordinance is about the safety of our community and our officers. Real or not, these guns are on our streets.”
The new ordinance:
“This ordinance makes it so that pneumatic weapons and toy pistols are viewed in the way that federal laws require,” said Bo Torres, executive director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. “Ordinances like these make the lives of city residents safer. They must, however, be accompanied by training of enforcement officers so costly mistakes and harm to the community are not done. Markings on toy weapons should be visible, brightly colored and distinguishable so there are no incidents where a toy gun can be mistaken for an actual weapon.”
Training for police officers on the new ordinance will occur during patrol briefings ahead of the April 1 effective date and will be incorporated into the Grand Rapids Police Department’s digital training platform and scenario-based training, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne said.
He added there had not been any injuries or deaths as a result of pneumatic guns and imitation firearms in Grand Rapids.
“This ordinance is intended to help us prevent such tragedies in a very intentional, strategic and proactive way,” Payne said.
The Rev. Jerry Bishop, founder of Lifequest Ministries, underscored the importance of the ordinance and the City’s commitment to making sure all people feel safe and are safe at all times throughout the community.
“Greater safety controls reduce risks,” Bishop said. “I’m for any organized or grassroots efforts that reduce the risk of losing lives.”
Violating the ordinance does have consequences, including possible fines. However, it is not intended to punish anyone but rather to protect everyone – youth, police and community – according to the City Attorney’s office.
City staff worked with the Mayor’s Youth Council and other community partners to create an educational campaign around the new ordinance. The Don’t Fake It campaign is designed to get the message out about the why and what of the ordinance and features informational materials, social media engagement and a website.
The City plans to work with community partners, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Lifequest Ministries and YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, among many others, to educate youth, parents and the community on the ordinance and what it means to them.
“It’s important we get the word out to the community about this new weapons ordinance,” Payne said. “Our police department is committed to transparency and, more importantly, to the safety of our youth.
“This educational campaign will go a long way in informing the community about the dangers of these types of weapons. We are educating officers, parents and youth to ensure everyone is aware of these changes and knows what to expect before this ordinance becomes law on April 1.”
Pablo Villalvazo, president of the Mayor’s Youth Council and a Union High School student, echoed this sentiment.
“It is vital to educate young minds on issues pertaining to their safety,” Villalvazo said. “Knowledge is power. This knowledge may save someone’s life.”