Debate Forum: 09/30

Forum Center: If it walks like a duck … 

By Paul Noah

Illustration: Jed Helmers

Imagine the following scenario: You live in a state were firearms are legally sold in major department stores such as the one within which you’re currently shopping. As you turn to walk down an aisle there is young African American man casually walking the store aisles with a rifle in one hand while conversing on his cell phone. From your perspective the rifle appears to be a real weapon. Taking into account the number of tragic shootings in schools, colleges, post offices, military bases, etc. in recent years do you: 1.) Call 9-1-1 on your mobile phone to report the possible gunman to the police?; 2.) Alert store security of the potential threat?; 3.) Head for the door as quickly as possible and say nothing?; 4.) Head for the door as quickly as possible alerting other shoppers to the danger?; 5.) Do nothing and continue shopping?

Now, with the above five options in mind, would your response change if the individual with the weapon were a white man? A female? A visibly senior aged man or woman of any race? A child? In many situations, our perspective can color the interpretation of the events as they unfold. How would you react in this situation?

On Aug. 5, 2014, John Crawford, a 22-year-old African American was in the Beavercreek, Ohio, Wal-Mart and his day ended in tragedy. While shopping and talking on his cell phone Crawford picked up an allegedly exposed rifle from an aisle shelf and began casually carrying it around the store. This particular rifle was a pellet gun replica of a real rifle and was mistaken for a real weapon by another shopper. That individual called 9-1-1, reporting to the police what he perceived to be a dangerous situation. He allegedly reported Crawford was waiving the gun around, and at one point allegedly stated Crawford was pointing the gun at shoppers in addition to attempting to load the weapon. Within minutes of the 9-1-1 call, two Beavercreek Police officers arrived on the scene and, after confronting Crawford, police weapons were fired – ultimately killing the young man.

The aftermath of the tragedy revealed the weapon Crawford had been carrying was in fact a pellet gun. Per the closed circuit surveillance video finally made public last week, Crawford, while talking on his cell phone, appeared unaware his actions were being perceived as a threat to anyone. In reality, per the event video and recently released witness reports, Crawford appeared to pose no intended threat to others. However, one Wal-Mart employee reported he witnessed Crawford “walking and swaying the gun” and he felt compelled to call and report Mr. Crawford’s behavior “because he could cause panic.” What may or may not be concluded in a court of law is whether Crawford did indeed pose a perceivable life threat to others in addition the police officers that confronted him at the time.

This past Wednesday, a Greene County Grand Jury returned a “No Bill” concluding the responding Beavercreek Police Officers were justified in their actions – clearing them of criminal wrongdoing. However, this does not end the investigation into his death as the U.S. Justice Department announced they were formally reviewing the case to determine if John Crawford’s civil rights were violated. And this past week, the first of many likely lawsuits is already underway.

With emotions running high, the regional community and the nation are attempting to come to grips with the possible reality that, had Crawford not been able to pick up the air gun and wander the store aisles with the gun in tow, he may be alive today.

Beyond possible wrongdoing by the involved Beavercreek police officers, or the possible misinformation provided by the person who called-in the report, we wonder what possible case may be brought up against Wal-Mart for a weapon replica of its kind so easily accessible to the shopping public. In fact, within a week of the Grand-Jury decision the Beavercreek Wal-Mart discontinued stock of all faux firearms.

So far (at least up until we submitted this weeks edition of the DCP for printing), we have yet to hear the question asking whether nor not such replica pellet guns or even realistic-looking toy water guns be kept under the same lock and key as real firearms. However, Crawford’s case may set a precedent for that very type of new regulation. Proponents of keeping items resembling firearms behind a counter, to be accessed only with the assistance of a sales clerk may argue this would have saved Crawford from being shot that day. Opponents, likely, would suggest that to do so would create one more set of rules and cumbersome regulations involving an already overreaching state and federal government, where all that was really needed was the exercising of some common sense.

Reach DCP Publisher Paul Noah at


Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Is it time for legislation to pass into law restrictions for retailers to keep under lock and key any item resembling a firearm (real or otherwise) for sale without the assistance of a human sales associate?


Debate Left: Area man shot while carrying item for sale through store

By Michael Truax

Of course realistic pellet guns should be behind glass. After all, they are dangerous weapons.

This is a toy that led to the death of a young black man, John Crawford III, in the middle of Wal-Mart simply for carrying it in public. The pellet gun was not as dangerous for the people around the man carrying the weapon as it was for the man himself.

Why were people in Wal-Mart surprised and alarmed someone was carrying an item for sale through the store? Well, there’s that one really, really obvious reason. There are other reasons as well, however, with different levels of responsibility for this tragedy. The accessibility of this toy is a key factor, even if it’s not the primary reason.

Maybe it was because the pellet gun was so easily accessible, on a shelf at the largest retailer on the continent, that it wasn’t taken seriously by Crawford until it was too late. If it was behind glass – if he had to ask a store clerk for it – maybe the responding police would have had a better frame of reference before relying on deadly force against a young man with a toy he pulled off a shelf in Wal-Mart.

Just because accessibility is a factor here does not mean we can ignore the subliminal cultural issue of race. Young black men are being targeted for far less than a pellet gun, whether it’s a driver’s license (Levar Jones, in South Carolina last month), Skittles (Trayvon Martin) or nothing at all (Michael Brown).

For contrast, perform a Google search on the phrase, “Guns in Starbucks.” You will find picture after picture of white people with high-watt smiles inside and on the sidewalk carrying real semiautomatic rifles. That’s perfectly legal here because Ohio is an open-carry state: It does not require a license to carry a firearm openly – a real firearm, not a toy – if the gun is legally owned.

For further contrast, see Cliven Bundy and the heavily armed anti-government forces that met to defend his “right” to let his cattle graze on government property for free. His supporters, also white, went as far as daring the government to shoot them.

Change three facts in this case and imagine the blowback for the police. Imagine Mr. Crawford were 50. Imagine he were white. Imagine the gun was real. Do the police respond the same way? In the wake of the incident, does the media cover, or the public read, this story in the same way?

There seems to be too little coverage of this outside of the Beavercreek area, even as close as Cincinnati. There is a pervasive sense of fatigue. People are tired because stories like this happen far too often and they don’t see it as something that could happen to themselves.

Yet, availability is still an issue in this case. Unlike the other factors, this is something we can fix quickly, and now. If we consider responsible gun ownership a right worth protecting, then why do we still trivialize it by turning them into toys? If the people of Wal-Mart and the responding police were in any way correct, we must rethink some things about toys and weapons:

First, if this toy looks that threatening, why does it exist? To teach people to take firearms less seriously? Firearm opponents and advocates should be able to come together on one thing: Guns need to be taken seriously. These toy guns are as outdated as candy cigarettes. They undermine the necessary gravity of firearm ownership and usage.

Second, if guns in public cause panic like that, then it’s past time to rethink Ohio’s open carry laws. It’s not difficult to imagine why it causes that kind of panic, given the highly publicized mass shootings around the country that have made the most mundane places, from theaters to schoolrooms, feel less safe.

If we’re going to exist as a country obsessed with guns for hunting or self-protection, we need to take them seriously. The shooting in Beavercreek demonstrates fake guns in public can be as dangerous as real ones when viewed through the imperfect eyes of the public.

Not only should these toys be behind glass, these stores should also require a signed waiver. I have taken the liberty of writing one for stores like Wal-Mart that choose to stock these realistic toy weapons. They may use this as they wish to help stop violence.


This is, technically, a toy.

By signing this waiver to carry and/or to display this toy, I hereby acknowledge that many will view me as a threat. It may cause fear, rational or irrational, as a result of which I may come into grave bodily harm.

I also acknowledge that other factors, such as my skin color, age and general appearance may be used in my judgment by bystanders and law enforcement personnel.

If I die, my character may be overtly or subtly assassinated. Methods include but are not limited to the display mugshots from unrelated misdemeanor arrests or salacious stories about my past. The popular news media may use any photo from my social media feeds to reinforce their narrative about me.


By carrying this toy, I hereby waive my right to proportional and sensible treatment.


NAME          DATE






Michael Truax is a freelance writer, digital marketing consultant, entertainment enthusiast and bar trivia champion living in West Chester, Ohio. He can be reached at


Debate Right: Is there a regulation to keep us from doing dumb things?

By David H. Landon

On Aug. 5, there was a tragic event in the Miami Valley. A young black man wandering through Wal-Mart with a pellet gun was killed by police who believed him to be carrying a lethal weapon. The shooting death of John Crawford III in the Beavercreek Wal-Mart is a tragedy for the entire community. A family has lost a son. The lethal response by the Beavercreek Police has created a division between those who feel the police were too aggressive and those who believe proper police protocol was followed. Coming on the heels of the shooting by police of a black man in Ferguson, Mo., racial tensions locally were heightened as we waited for the matter to be sorted out by the Greene County authorities.Last week, the Greene County Grand Jury made a finding the police involved in the shooting were not criminally culpable for the death of this young man. The matter is far from over, as the U.S. Justice Department has indicated it will formally review the shooting. Those representing the family of the young man have indicated they intend to pursue the matter, as they believe justice requires someone be held responsible.

Our debate forum this week looks beyond the initial questions of whether the police were too aggressive or whether this 22-year-old black man’s careless actions unwittingly brought about his own death. Those questions will be debated by others including the Justice Department as everyone tries to make sense of this young man’s death.

We are instead asking another question.

What steps should a retail outlet be required to take in order to protect its customers from creating a panic and bringing injury to themselves or others? Specifically, should retail outlets be required to keep replica weapons such as the pellet rifle John Crawford was carrying under lock and key?

Obviously, retail outlets that sell real weapons keep those guns and ammunition behind lock and key. In order to look at the merchandise, a salesperson must be present. Under no circumstance can you take such a weapon and walk around the store. Under federal law, new firearms may only be sold by businesses that possess a Federal Firearms License (FFL).

That would include stores like Wal-Mart. Although FFL dealers are licensed by the federal government, they are also subject to many local laws and regulations. They must possess business licenses, fit within zoning requirements (sometimes very onerous ones) and may only offer guns for sale which are legal within the state, county and city where they operate. Additionally, they must observe any federal, state and local laws, regulations and rules which may apply to the purchase. In other words, the sale of real weapons is highly regulated. Do we want to throw what are essentially toy guns, or at the very least non-lethal target sporting guns, into the list of the weapons which are heavily regulated?

Would this type of regulation potentially save lives? I suppose it could prevent an accident of the type we experienced in Beavercreek last month. If to handling a pellet gun rifle required the presence of a salesperson and a requirement that it not be removed from the area of the store where real guns are kept under lock and key, it would possibly prevent this type of senseless tragedy. This however begs the question: Are retail outlets responsible for any injury caused by the thoughtless actions (and let’s be honest here, as tragic as John Crawford’s’ death certainly was, what was he thinking?) of a shopper or any other invitee taken within the confines of their store?

While we have to assume John Crawford was unaware his actions of casually strolling through the aisles of Wal-Mart while carrying a pellet rifle that appeared to be a real weapon and talking on his cell phone would be misconstrued as an act of violence, in this day and age, he really should have known better. To now attempt to address the tragedy by saddling more regulation on the retail outlet is simply wishful thinking. With all due respect to the late John Crawford, we will never be able to legislate and promulgate enough regulations to protect individuals who refuse to exercise common sense.

Putting a label on the top step of a ladder saying, “Do not stand on this last step” has been around for a number of years. If we were to check hospital emergency room visits there would be a staggering number of injuries from those who choose to ignore that warning. Warning labels on microwave ovens warning not to be used for drying small animals would seem unnecessary. Wish it were so. On a cardboard windshield sun-shade: “‘Warning: Do Not Drive with Sun Shield in Place.” Who would think otherwise? Seriously?

While these warning labels aren’t directly on point, the parallel is obvious. There is a limit as to what can be done to protect us from our own abandonment of common sense. This is not intended to make light of the sad occasion of Mr. Crawford’s death. We’ve all done stupid things at some point in our lives. Most of us survive the momentary lapse of common sense and can laugh about it on another day. Sadly, John Crawford will not have that chance.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at


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Paul Noah
Reach publisher Paul Noah at

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