A teenager committed suicide in Santa Rosa last week. Wearing a hoodie over his head, carrying a pellet gun replica of an AK-47 assault rifle across his chest and a toy gun inside the waistband of his pants, he probably thought he was some badass gang banger. He was walking down the street when a sheriff cruiser pulled up behind him. With light flashing and the siren screaming, the deputies got behind the doors of their cruiser and ordered the teenager—twice—to drop his weapon. He turned to look back with the gun barrel rising towards the deputies.
Seven shots later, he’s handcuffed and declared dead. Suicide.
When I was a child in West San Jose during the 1970’s, my friends and I played with cap guns. Some of the older teenagers had BB guns for shooting small birds and pockmarking the windows around the neighborhood. San Jose was still rural back then, surrounded by orchards and the suburban sprawl that would later become Silicon Valley. Most stores sold fishing gear, department stores sold hunting rifles. All the kids got taught basic gun safety when playing with toy guns. Anything less would get someone hurt.
Basic gun safety meant you kept the gun barrel pointed to the ground and fingers off the trigger guard when walking down the street. If you’re playing cowboys and Indians, you did it someone’s yard, stay out of the streets and never pointed a cap gun above shoulder height. (Shooting from the hip was popular back then.) And you never ever pointed a toy gun at a police officer under any circumstances. You were likely to get shot—regardless of skin color.
Walking down the street with a hoodie and what looks like an illegal assault weapon in California is asking for serious trouble. I can’t blame the deputies for this one. The gangs are using teenagers to commit murders because the juvenile system provides short prison terms and sealed records. Unless a teenaged murderer gets tried as an adult, he gets a proverbial slap on the wrist and instant street cred with the gang. A bad deal for everyone involved. We don’t need teenagers playing gang bangers with toy guns.