Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Monday banned the use of unmarked replica handguns in Boston's public spaces, signing a measure that officials say will head off dangerous situations in which police could confuse toys for weapons.
Boston police have already seized 150 realistic-looking facsimile firearms this year as part of criminal investigations, which Walsh said is "a testament to their skill and professionalism that no one has been hurt."
Under the ban, officers will now be able to take away any phony handguns they see without markings to distinguish them from actual weapons. If the replicas are taken from children, parents will have to pick them up, giving police a chance to talk to families about the dangers of replica guns. Those caught violating the law a second time would be fined $50.
"There are too many of these so-called toys out there that can really put our children's life in danger," Police Commissioner William B. Evans said as Walsh signed the ordinance at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury. "It's a real frustrating part of our job."
To illustrate the danger, Evans and Walsh pointed to the Ohio case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun when he was shot to death by a police officer.
Evans has previously cited an incident in which officers chased four boys through a South Boston playground after seeing them with a facsimile handgun police thought was real. Nobody was hurt, but the commissioner said at the time that it could have been a "tragedy."
Evans said there have been numerous incidents in which an officer has chased a suspect that was thought to have been armed only to find out the person was carrying a replica gun.
Civic leaders and police officials say they have been trying to address the issue for a while.
"The city was wrestling with this for over a year," said Rev. Mark V. Scott, associate pastor at Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester. "This is a small step in the right direction."
The replica guns have been used to commit crimes, such as robberies, and have been confiscated from children who have brought them into public schools.
Evans said he has relied on clergy members to help get the message across.
The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor at Twelfth Baptist Church, held up a replica Glock-9 and noted how similar it was in appearance to the gun carried by Boston Police Superintendent in Chief William Gross in his holster.
"There is really no difference," Brown said.
Brown said the fight to get replicas off the street is a difficult one because of a politically powerful gun lobby.
But he said elected officials, police, and the community must band together for the safety of the community.
"This is not a supersoaker," he said. "This can be a very dangerous thing on a playground. To an officer out there on the street it's hard to discern which is which."