These are difficult times to be a police officer. Not only are the President of the United States and innumerable politicians regularly portraying the police as the enemy of the people–particularly black people–but the media have joyfully jumped on the anti-police bandwagon. Fox News reports:
A Fargo police officer fatally shot responding to a routine domestic disturbance call. A 25-year police veteran killed while trying to serve a warrant outside Atlanta. These are just the latest tragedies of cops murdered while performing their sworn duty — ‘to protect and serve.’
But while President Obama and the Democratic candidates vying to succeed him are putting America’s police departments on trial in the court of public opinion in response to a rash of deadly police shootings, the murder of police officers on America’s streets is being met with a ‘deafening silence.’
‘I cannot recall any time in recent years when six law enforcement professionals have been murdered by gunfire in multiple incidents in a single week,’ National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund CEO Craig W. Floyd said in a statement Friday. ‘Already this year there have been eight officers shot and killed, compared to just one during the same period last year and represents a very troubling trend.
The relative silence on officer deaths contrasts with the Democratic candidates’ often fiery language on police brutality against African Americans. When it came to the issue of law enforcement at Thursday night’s Democratic debate, the candidates focused almost exclusively on ‘police reform.’ Vermont Sen. Sanders said he’s ‘sick and tired’ of seeing unarmed black people shot by police, likening heavily equipped departments to ‘occupying armies’ – a reference to Ferguson, Mo. and elsewhere. Hillary Clinton hit similar points.
Such irresponsible, false and inflammatory rhetoric has consequences, as in places like Baltimore, where violent crime is skyrocketing and police officers wisely back away from doing their jobs, particularly when those jobs require dealing with and/or arresting certain politically protected victim classes. This is known as “the Ferguson Effect,” which Progressives deny is happening. By all means, take the link and read the rest of the article.
Unfortunately, sometimes, people do have legitimate grievances against the police, which, occurring during a time of anti-police hysteria, can do real damage rather than being seen as individual incidents to be investigated and handled locally. Such a case is reported by Legal Insurrection:
Comedian and actor Carlo Bellario was arrested while shooting a low-budget film in residential Woodbridge, New Jersey last November.
Unaware a movie was being filmed, neighbors called the cops. When police arrived on the scene, they learned the film’s producers did not have proper permits to film in the neighborhood, nor did they have a permit to film with a prop gun.
Because Bellario was wielding a soft-pellet pistol (considered a firearm in New Jersey), he was arrested, charged with weapons possession, and spent four days in jail.
This is an Airsoft gun, in this case, modeled on the ubiquitous Beretta 92. Airsoft guns are, in effect, toys. Unlike pellet and BB guns which fire metal projectiles–some at dangerous velocities–Airsoft guns are made almost entirely of plastic, and fire small, colorful, soft plastic pellets. These pellets are essentially harmless, which is why Airsoft guns are often used by police officers and tactical trainers for indoors close quarters battle scenarios. In such training, eye protection is commonly worn, but nothing else is necessary. They lack the velocity to cause damage.
Airsoft guns are manufactured to resemble a wide variety of contemporary handguns, including rifles and submachineguns. Normally, they have bright orange muzzles, or other parts are brightly colored, making it clear that they are not real firearms, but such parts are easily removed or painted. Presumably, that was the case with the prop gun Bellario was using.
Let’s be clear: Some BB or pellet guns, particularly more expensive guns, are capable of significantly damaging human beings, particularly if fire is directed at specific, vulnerable points. Airsoft guns, with the possible exception of a plastic pellet in an eye at close range, are not.
A New Jersey actor and comedian is facing charges after getting in trouble for having a fake gun while filming a movie.
Carlo Bellario says he was filming a low-budget, independent movie in a residential area of Woodbridge last November.
‘I was playing a bodyguard for a drug dealer,’ Bellario said.
The scene the group was filming depicted a car chase with the actor pretending to shoot a gun out of the window of the car. Bellario had a realistic-looking, unloaded airsoft gun as his prop.
Neighbors were unaware that a movie was being filmed and called police.
Bellario says several police officers responded to the scene.
‘They rolled up hot. There was eight of them. They got out. They were all charged up, ‘who’s the guy driving, where’s the guy with the gun?’ he says. ‘I said, ‘I’m right here, we’re actors, we’re shooting a movie.’ I’m in character still. It was in my waistband. I pulled it out slowly because I don’t want to make the wrong move.
What would the reasonable, rational police officer do in this situation?
Bellario was arrested and charged with weapons possession. He spent four days in the Middlesex County Jail trying to raise the $10,000 bail because he says that the producers refused to help.
Bellario says that he is restricted from leaving New Jersey and is losing money on missed out-of-state performances. He is raising money online and will hold a benefit comedy show to help pay for an attorney.
If convicted on the charges, Bellario could face up to five years in prison.
Bellario does not blame the police for coming to check out the situation. Back to Fox, where Bellario explains:
When the police arrived we attempted to explain to them that this is a movie shoot, and that the gun was a prop. After several minutes of questioning everyone the police had determined that the producer & director neither had a film permit nor did they have a permit for the prop gun which turned out to be an air soft pellet pistol. I was the only one arrested that day for possession of a handgun, and now face up to 5 years of prison,. I spent 4 days in jail at Middlesex County Jail until my family was able to post bond for me. The producer of the movie told my family that he would indeed bail me out but when he found out the bail was 10,000 he declined to help and left me there and left my family frantic as to how to arrange bail and get me released. He ignored my family’s phone calls & subsequently my family had to lay out over 4,500 thus far for the bail bondsman and other expenses.
New Jersey law is about what one might expect from one of the most irrationally anti-gun states in America. I’m including only the relevant section of the law. Anyone wishing to read the whole thing, please take the link:
2C:39-5 Unlawful possession of weapons.
b.Handguns. Any person who knowingly has in his possession any handgun, including any antique handgun, without first having obtained a permit to carry the same as provided in N.J.S.2C:58-4, is guilty of a crime of the third degree if the handgun is in the nature of an air gun, spring gun or pistol or other weapon of a similar nature in which the propelling force is a spring, elastic band, carbon dioxide, compressed or other gas or vapor, air or compressed air, or is ignited by compressed air, and ejecting a bullet or missile smaller than three-eighths of an inch in diameter, with sufficient force to injure a person. Otherwise it is a crime of the second degree.
So under New Jersey state law, a handgun is just about anything remotely resembling a handgun, including a BB or pellet gun, and arguably, an Airsoft gun. It would appear that Bellario’s only realistic defense would be to argue that the unloaded Airsoft gun he was carrying could not, and does not propel a projectile “with sufficient force to injure a person, but apparently even that defense, if successful, would merely shift the offense to another level of crime.
To rational people, this situation is absolutely absurd, however, this is New Jersey, where in April of 2015, Governor Chris Christie had to pardon Shaneen Allen, a single mother of two young children, who, on a brief trip to New Jersey was stopped by police for an “unsafe lane change.” Her handgun, for which she had a Pennsylvania concealed carry permit, was in her glovebox and she, honestly, immediately told the officers about it. For her honesty, she was arrested for possession of the gun and hollowpoint ammunition and faced years in jail. I ended that article (which contains links to the entire series of articles about Allen’s case) with this:
So there seems to be a happy ending for Shaneen Allen. What about everyone else that lives in New Jersey, or those who have the misfortune to visit? Why not, rather than arresting the innocent, subjecting them to the possibility of years in prison and the expense and trauma of being forced to defend themselves for exercising their Second Amendment rights, bring New Jersey laws into compliance with the Constitution? For now, the politicians, and perhaps even the majority of the people, of New Jersey find progressive orthodoxy more compelling.
Why anyone would choose to live in or visit New Jersey is beyond me.
One might argue that Allen–particularly Allen; she had a real gun–and Bellario were breaking the law. As Charles Dickens wrote:
If the law supposes that, the law is an ass.
Ultimately, the fault lies with the New Jersey Legislature for writing a law that magically transmogrifies pellet, BB and Airsoft guns into firearms, and in so doing, all but denies New Jersey citizens the right to self-defense. However, there seems to be no political will in New Jersey to correct this absurd state of affairs, which should surprise no one.
In the case of Bellario, the fault lies with the producer of the movie, and with the police officers that arrested him. Clearly, Bellario had no criminal intent. The “gun” wasn’t actually his, but a prop provided for his role in the movie, a fantasy tool for a work of fiction. At worst, the police should have cited the producer for failing to procure the correct permits prior to shooting the movie.
So why were the police wrong in arresting Bellario? Wasn’t he, technically, violating the law? Apparently, but there is a larger issue involved: discretion. This is what I wrote in my original article on the Allen case:
In this, and similar cases, the police have generally unlimited discretion. There are so many laws on the books, including many that were intended to ‘make a statement,’ that officers–and other rational beings–understand that it’s impossible to enforce them all. Indeed, it would be a gross miscarriage of justice to try to enforce them all.
As long as they are not obviously being negligent in the pursuit of their duties, police officers may choose not to arrest people for every infraction that comes to their attention. This happens every day across the nation, when officers choose to give citizens a warning, or merely to inform them of the law, rather than giving them a ticket or arresting them for a wide variety of infractions.
Normally, officer’s superiors don’t know about each of these incidents of common sense and street-level correction of lunatic legislation, and that’s just fine with them. However, sometimes, because of political heat, or because public sentiment on a given issue is so strong, officers understand that they have less room to exercise discretion on those issues. Sometimes, their superiors more or less order them to enforce certain laws very strictly. And sometimes, officers are just badge-heavy and do their best to arrest everyone they can.
The officers should have used their discretion and directed everyone involved to get the proper permits before continuing. It is this kind of rational, reasonable policing that builds and maintains respect for law enforcement and justice. Prosecutors also play a role, as I wrote in that first article:
Prosecutors have essentially unbridled discretion. While they too are subject to political pressures and to the shifting winds of public sentiment, their use of discretion is generally less subject to review than that of police officers. They can bargain charges down and even decline to file charges. They can even enter into a variety of diversion agreements where a person charged, by avoiding any charges for a set term, may find the charge dismissed entirely. Interestingly, prosecutors often bargain down charges, and if sufficient public pressure is applied sometimes dismiss them.
Unfortunately, in New Jersey, gun offenses are commonly treated more severely than violent felonies, as Bellario discovered. In a time of rampant, and often unwarranted, criticism of police officers, it would be wise for the police to properly and intelligently use their discretion to allow their fellow citizens to believe that at least some of the rhetoric aimed at them is false. In this case, the New Jersey officers shot every police officer in America in the foot with an Airsoft gun. Unfortunately, those inspired by anti-police rhetoric to kill police officers will use the real thing.
When is an Airsoft gun an Airsoft gun? In New Jersey, never. It’s always a firearm.