City outlines new weapons ordinance

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Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne, at podium, said pneumatic guns and imitation firearms have contributed to public safety concerns because they look like real guns. Courtesy city of Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids city staff recently were joined by community leaders, local youth and other Grand Rapids officials during a media event to discuss the city’s new weapons ordinance, which regulates the ownership and carry of pneumatic and toy guns.

The ordinance, which goes into effect April 1, prohibits brandishing, regulates discharge and prohibits individuals younger than 16 from possessing pneumatic guns without supervision.

Pneumatic guns include those that expel a BB or pellet by spring, gas or air, like paintball and airsoft guns.

The ordinance was approved by the Grand Rapids City Commission in December 2019 as part of the city’s safe community strategic priority.

“This elevates our commitment to community and police working together for a safe community,” City Manager Mark Washington said. “It also promotes mutual respect between youth and police.”

This new ordinance intends to prevent the fear, confusion and unsafe situations pneumatic and imitation weapons can create. Violating the ordinance comes with possible fines, but it is not intended to punish anyone but rather to protect everyone — youth, police and community — according to the city attorney’s office.

Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne said pneumatic guns and imitation firearms have contributed to public safety concerns because they look like real guns.

“So much so that residents have called 911 believing they have seen real guns with police officers responding to what they think are real firearm calls,” Payne said. “These situations create challenges for police officers who, in a split second, have to determine whether they are real.”

The ordinance also:

  • Regulates other nonfirearm projectile weapons, including bows and crossbows, in a manner consistent with pneumatic guns. These devices previously were treated as firearms under city code.
  • Regulates imitation firearm toys consistent with federal law. This generally requires that imitation firearms cannot be possessed unless they have markings required by federal law — such as an orange tip or brightly colored body. Federally required markings cannot be altered.
  • Regulates the seizure or forfeiture of weapons used in violation of the ordinance and provides a mechanism to dispose of weapons used in violation of the ordinance.
  • Requires reasonable parental responsibility for ensuring youth follow the ordinance.

Training for police officers on the new ordinance will occur during patrol briefings before April 1 and will be incorporated into the Grand Rapids Police Department’s digital training platform and scenario-based training, Payne said.

Payne added there have so far not been any injuries or deaths as a result of pneumatic guns and imitation firearms in Grand Rapids.

“This ordinance is intended to help us prevent such tragedies in a very intentional, strategic and proactive way,” Payne said.

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