Sioux City officials are in the process of changing the city’s weapons code to prohibit people from carrying toy firearms like BB guns in city limits. Local police say these guns look like real firearms, and banning them could curb crime.
Sioux City council members passed a second reading of the ordinance on Monday. A first reading was passed in early November and the city council will revisit it for a third time next week.
Outside of the city’s council chambers, Sioux City Sergeant Scott Hatting held up a BB gun police confiscated three years ago from a shoplifting case turned robbery.
“It really has the actual weight of a real firearm,” Hatting said. “It has the markings of a real firearm.”
The city’s weapons code currently bans carrying of paintball guns, slingshots and bows and arrows, but not BB guns. The label on the confiscated BB gun that is now in Hatting’s possession says “may cause serious injury or death.”
“Right now there really is no reason for anybody to be on the street with a BB gun in their possession,” Hatting said. “They’re carrying them in their belts, they’re carrying them in their backpacks and their coats. It’s very common.”
He says the goal is to stop a major crime before it happens.
Under the revised ordinance, carrying a BB gun would be considered a simple misdemeanor, which, according to Iowa Code, imposes a fine of $65 to $625 and even up to 30 days in jail.
Because BB guns also look like real guns, if an officer sees someone carrying one out in the open, they’re faced with the decision of using deadly force against them, said Sioux City Police Chief Rex Mueller.
“We want to avoid that possibility,” Mueller said. “We don’t want officers to have to utilize deadly force against somebody that has one of these weapons that’s improperly displaying it.”
The City of Cedar Rapids passed a similar ordinance in 2009 that Mueller says local enforcement officials are using as a baseline for the changes to Sioux City’s ordinance.
According to Cedar Rapids Public Safety Communications Coordinator Greg Buelow, data from 2015 to the present shows there have been 119 charges involving people carrying a concealed weapon. Some are associated with shoplifting or vehicle theft, but Buelow said it’s difficult to discern how many used BB guns, without going through each individual report.
Buelow says the ordinance in Cedar Rapids stemmed from the same problem Sioux City police are facing: The difficulty in discerning whether the weapon is a BB gun or a real, loaded firearm.
“It’s in the public safety [department’s] interest in making sure people don’t have weapons to threaten or intimidate people,” Buelow said.
Sioux City’s ordinance would also apply to pellet guns, but not Nerf guns or squirt guns, “because those items, by their nature, are toys and not weapons,” according to the ordinance.