Debate Forum: 01/13

Forum Center: That toy is not a toy!

By Sarah Sidlow
Lately, there has been no shortage of news reports of incidents involving unarmed citizens being fatally shot by police officers who suspect them of carrying concealed weapons. A number of these stories have involved citizens – particularly young, African American males – carrying toy guns or pellet guns, and being shot by police officers who perceive an imminent threat to their safety and the safety of others.

The recent fatal shooting of San Francisco 32-year-old Matthew Hoffman revealed another troubling trend: “suicide by cop” or “officer-assisted suicide,” a suicide method in which an individual provokes a law enforcement official in a threatening way with the goal of being fatally shot.

According to reports, Hoffman was loitering in a restricted area of the San Francisco Mission Police Station when three sergeants asked him to leave. Hoffman began walking away, but as the sergeants walked to their cars, he was standing in their path. Hoffman began to back away with his hands in his shirt pockets, and was asked to show police his hands. Instead, Hoffman lifted his sweater to reveal what appeared to be the butt of a handgun in his waistband.

Hoffman was shot three times and died later that night at a local hospital. It was discovered his “weapon” was a pellet pistol, from which the orange plastic tip, an indication that the gun was fake, had been removed.

Among a number of apparent suicide notes found on Hoffman’s phone during a later investigation was a message addressed to police officers.

“You did nothing wrong,” the note said. “You ended the life of a man who was too much of a coward to do it himself. I provoked you. I threatened your life as well as the lives of those around me. You were completely within your legal rights to do what you did.”

While tensions rise and opinions flare about police-involved shootings, it is becoming apparent that anything resembling a gun will be treated by police as a legitimate threat – a deadly weapon – which means the consequences for holding it could very well be life-threatening.

When a person reveals something resembling a deadly weapon to police, as Hoffman knew, the police are trained to shoot that individual who poses a threat.

If police officers, then, are beginning to treat toy guns as deadly weapons, is it time for legislators to treat them the same way, by regulating the ownership of toy guns?

More specifically, unless a person is carrying that toy gun in an “open carry position,” as defined by open-carry states such as Ohio, should a person be required to hold a permit allowing them to carry the toy via “conceal carry”?

While this may appear like an extreme extension of legal rhetoric, proponents of this concealed carry (CCW) permit requirement may argue it is not unreasonable to consider the fact that in today’s society, carrying a toy pistol comes with just as many repercussions and responsibilities as carrying a real one. They say the permit, which also carries a promise that the permit-holder has gone through proper training and education, would save lives. The requirement for training would ensure people were aware of the risk that is run by not only holding a toy gun, but by presenting it in a threatening manner.

Opponents claim that toys should be toys. They claim a tight regulation on toys is a slippery slope to restrictions on other areas that someone may deem “threatening.”

Reach DCP Editor Sarah Sidlow at

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Is it time to make carrying anything resembling a gun in a concealed manner require a CCW permit?

Debate Left: March of the toy soldiers

By Ben Tomkins

I’ve had a gun pointed at me twice in my life, and that’s twice too many, thank you very much. In both instances, without question, if the individual had pulled the trigger, the bullet would have made it to the left portion of my brain before a conscious understanding of the situation would have. For about a second, everything just goes on you. I froze because my system had no response drilled into it to fill that gap, and if someone had trained me to breakdance under those circumstances I would have done it like a puppet getting its strings jerked. 

The justness of the police shooting need not be analyzed any further than the note that Hoffman left. He didn’t expect them to shoot him for pulling out a toy gun; he knew they would shoot him, and he knew they wouldn’t try to shoot the gun out of his hand or some other ridiculous cinematic fantasy entertained by self-appointed ex post facto social immaterialists living in the Mission either. 

The shooting of Matthew Hoffman illustrates exactly how aberrant a person walking down the street in a first-world country with a firearm on their person should be. The fact that many people consider it not only reasonable, but advisable to do so should be sending a clear message that we have forgotten the most basic covenant we make to each other as brothers and sisters participating in a collective society.

There will always be crazy people; it is as unavoidable as it is tragic. But to point to those outlandish circumstances of a deranged mind as justification for preemptively assuming that everyone else who lives here is one opportunistic moment away from doing the same destroys any hope we have of becoming ever-better stewards of civilization. The capacity for dialogue is the most precious possession we have, and extending each other the affirmation that we will use words before violence is what allowed us to leave the forests and carve out something better than survival of the fittest for our posterity.

Do not take me to be unrealistic about our animalistic heritage. I know as well as you do that there are people who either can’t, because of a lack of education or mental defect, or won’t for more sinister reasons, engage in behavior that allows us to avoid physical conflict. It’s there, and that’s why we have civil authorities invested with the right and power to intervene. I don’t want anyone to get shot, much less my wife or family, but the risk of that actually occurring is far, far lower than the risk of them dying simply by existing in a world filled with unavoidable accidents and disease. I know I have to accept the universe, but I don’t have to make it worse by involving a weapon in it.

This is the conundrum of the gun. If we take the attitude that it is better for us to assume the worst of our fellow man and hope for the better as long as it lasts, then every disagreement I have with other people is going to be colored by a false perception of the degree of threat a disagreement poses. 

I disagree with people all the time – sometimes angrily. Those are the moments where we teach and hope all of our kids will look to the higher ideals of agreeing to disagree, diffusing the situation, or being the bigger person and walking away. We want fighting to be the absolute last resort, and that starts in the training of the mind, not the body.

However, we will never, ever have a hope of achieving that kind of society in the broadest sense possible when a gun is resting on our hip, whispering in our ear all the while that the threat of physical violence in that way would produce a resolution far more easily than thought.

Worse than that, now our police force is operating in an environment where, not only are the people they are supposed to protect walking around with this diminished standard of civility, but any of them would be fully justified to be carrying a loaded weapon concealed beneath their shirt. How can we possibly expect them to exhaust all the options we can think of after the fact, when the drastically exacerbated potential of the situation disallows their deepest exploration in the moment?

So we return to the question: should people be required to get a permit for a toy gun as if it were a real gun? Well, the police are already forced to go into all situations, not with the mindset that there is a dim possibility a person has a gun, but knowing that they very well could have one. I would say yes, but with the caveat that they aren’t going to be able to check it anyway if things go badly. We can’t expect them to approach us in a less defensive mindset because it just isn’t reality. It’s as cynical as it is cyclical, and its absurdity should provoke a little thought before a reaction. 


Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

Debate Right: Silly rabbit, CCWs are for real guns

By Rob Scott

Recently, there has been an immense amount of media coverage and discussion regarding police officers using deadly force against those whom threaten the same. Specifically, the media has honed into focusing on African American males who use real guns, pellet guns and even toy guns and subsequently get killed by police officers.

First, like many of my prior columns has discussed in detail, nothing can replace good common sense. If you are planning to knowingly break the law, look suspicious or decide to disobey police commands, no policy or rule is going to protect you. Though this columnist is not saying the recent incidents are clearly in that category, some of them clearly were. To ensure there may not be any confusion of motives, someone should not attempt to break the law with a gun or anything resembling it. Really, no one should be breaking the law either. This is by far one of the easiest solutions.

Many are beating the war drums regarding not only more regulation on real guns and pellet guns, but toy guns as well. When I was younger, my toy guns clearly looked like toys. However, admittedly, toy guns continue to look more and more authentic. The operative term is they are toys, and now under federal law, require orange tips on the barrel to distinguish they are in fact toys, not to be mistaken for a real gun.

Several states have begun to craft proposed legislation banning toy guns due to the recent events. In California, toy guns made to look like the real thing would be banned under legislation announced last week in Sonoma County, where last month a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a 13-year-old boy after mistaking his replica AK-47 pellet gun for an assault rifle. A similar incident occurred when police shot a 12-year-old Cleveland boy after drawing a handgun toy, which was caught on video.

The bill, to be introduced by five California lawmakers, would require pellet and other toy guns to be brightly colored or translucent so they are easily recognized.

Under this same logic, lawmakers should be attempting to ban fast food due to clogging arteries or skydiving due to accidental deaths.

Probably the most outrageous suggestion coming from anti-gun advocates is the need for those who want to carry toy guns the requirement they get a concealed carry license. To receive a concealed carry license, an applicant must go through several hours of training, education and even hands-on experience before receiving their permit.

Though a huge proponent for gun rights myself, I find the mere suggestion of having the requirement for a conceal carry license for a toy to be ludicrous. Those who take the time to get a concealed carry license, which is not a simple process, are folks who follow the gun laws. Also, what type of training will be required to carry a toy gun? Possibly how to properly shooting rubber bands or Nerf bullets.

In almost all cases, those who break the laws using a weapon or a “fake” weapon do not have a concealed carry license, nor would they exert the energy in order to procure one.

Regardless, the mere fact is this argument is over a toy. If restrictions are passed purely on a simple toy, then what will be next?

I had plenty of toys growing up that could have been dangerous. I had an ever-growing collection of G.I. Joes, which promoted guns and battles with the Joes’ nemesis Cobra. Should this be restricted due to the suggestion of violence and war?

The real culprit here is people not properly respecting guns. The simple saying, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” rings very true.

When police use deadly force, they are making a split-second decision to pull the trigger on their weapon. They have to be concerned with not only their personal safety, but also the safety of fellow officers, the public bystanders in the area and perhaps later if the assailant is not dealt with immediately.

During that time, police most likely will not be able to completely ascertain whether the weapon the assailant has is a toy gun or a real gun. In this situation, I would doubt most anyone would be able to know. Also, as history teaches us, most assailants breaking the law use real guns – not toy guns.

Simply put, if someone is attempting to break a law with a toy gun or point a toy gun at police officers, it is easy to comprehend officers will respond with deadly force. If someone uses a real gun to break the law, police officers will use deadly force.

Putting more restrictions or requiring those with toy guns to get a concealed carry license is not going to curtail deadly force being used against someone with a toy gun breaking the law. Even if someone had a concealed carry license for a toy gun while breaking the law, they are still doing the deed.

Rob Scott is a general practice attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is a Kettering City Councilman, founder of the Dayton Tea Party, member of the Dayton Masonic Lodge and Kettering Rotary. He can be contacted at or

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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