Which gun is real? If you can’t tell, are you sure the cops can?
Would you be able to tell a real gun from a fake one? Authorities say it's not as easy as you might think.
Even police officers have trouble telling them apart at a quick glance, according to Ocean County Prosecutor's Office spokesman Al Della Fave.
Manufacturers are producing fake firearms that look more like the real thing than ever before, Della Fave said.
"The molding companies make them very realistic," Della Fave said.
Some pellet gun manufacturers are replicating details on the bodies and the weight of certain firearms, making it nearly impossible to distinguish a real weapon from a fake without holding it and inspecting it, he said.
"I don't think there's any way unless you're able to get right up on it to check, feel the weight. ... It's just really impossible to tell unless you have some time to physically manipulate the weapon," Della Fave said.
He said although manufacturers are supposed to equip fake guns with oranges tip at the end of their barrels, "there's nothing to prevent people for doctoring it. Those manufacturers shouldn't be held responsible."
To illustrate how difficult it is to distinguish a real firearm from a fake one, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office issued a poll via Facebook, where members of the public were shown pictures of eight handguns and asked to pick the one that was real.
According to Della Fave, 49 percent of people polled made the wrong choice, while 51 percent chose correctly. He said a majority of the people who viewed the images on a bright computer or phone screen made the right choice based on the fact that they could see the magazine at the bottom of the gun.
But, Della Fave said, for police in the field, making that determination isn't quite that easy.
"Do you really think this would be visible within seconds in the dark of night with a hand wrapped around the grip?" he asked, adding that a majority of the people surveyed conceded that "the pellet guns' similarity to real firearms present a significant problem for law enforcement.
The fact that fake firearms appear so realistic presents a hazard not only to police officers, but to the gun owners and members of the public, Della Fave said.
In recent years, there have been incidents in Ocean County involving fake guns that were initially perceived as being real.
On July 7, a man was shot by police in a confrontation after he pointed an air gun at an officer. The man was stopped by Toms River police and pointed an air gun at the officers before running off and jumping into the Toms River.
At the time, Della Fave said police approached a car with Timothy Sauers, 29, inside parked near the corner of Cedars Drive and Haines Street. Officers fired at the Toms River man after he pointed what appeared to be a firearm at them, though Sauers did not fire his weapon, Della Fave said at the time.
After a land and air search by the NJ State Police Aviation Unit, the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department and the Ocean County Prosecutors Office, the man was located about an hour later and taken to a hospital for treatment.
In April, former Lakewood High School football player Naquese Joshua was sentenced to 10 years in a juvenile justice facility. Ocean County authorities say Joshua was one of four former Lakewood High School football players who used a toy gun to rob several people in separate holdups that occurred in 2014.
In January, the Ocean County prosecutor's Office said the Aug. 23, 2015 shooting of a Brick man who reportedly aimed an imitation firearm at police was justified. After an investigation, authorities said 21-year-old Julian Hoffman raised his weapon at police after he was ordered to drop it.
Prosecutors said two officers fired eight rounds at Hoffman, fearing he would pull the trigger.
One of those rounds fatally struck him in the chest.
The 911 call from the incident can be heard here:
Della Fave said that because manufacturers are building fake guns that look so realistic, it's important to "treat every gun as if it's real." In a robbery situation, for example, "if someone presents a handgun, I would comply as if it's real," Della Fave said.
Law enforcement officers in New Jersey receive specialized training in the proper use of firearms. They're taught when they should draw their weapons and how to shoot. Police academies often use a firearms training simulator that puts officers in different scenarios to train them on the use of force.
Della Fave said although such training is important, scenarios in the field may play out differently. He stressed the importance of seeking cover when a gun is drawn, as an initial response.
"Once a weapon is displayed, try to seek cover. But when there's no cover you're forced to make a split-second decision whether or not to defend yourself," he said of police officers in the field.
He said many law enforcement officers are using the strategy of "I'll take a shot before I make a shot," meaning that they're willing to take a bullet before firing their own service weapon.
"They shouldn't have to put themselves in that position," he said. "The sad reality today for those in law enforcement is simply this: The only way to be 100 percent sure is to commit to taking a shot before returning fire."
Della Fave also said for those who propose "shooting extremities or warning shots, this is not an option."
"The NJ Attorney General's guidelines on the use of force forbid it. Besides, gunshot wounds of any kind can easily bring death, whether it's a gunshot wound to the leg striking a major artery, which can easily cause a subject to quickly bleed out or a bullet ricocheting off bone traveling thru the body striking major organs," Della Fave said. "During classroom and range training, those in law enforcement get a comprehensive understanding of the extreme dangers handguns pose."
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.
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