A cop's split-second decision: Real or replica?

A question posted on Quora asked, “What's it like to be a police officer who sees a kid with what looks like a real gun?” 20-year veteran Officer Christopher Hawk gave his opinion on the topic, below.

It was around 1:30 a.m. on a typical early Fall Saturday night.  There were lots of people out in the campus area of the local major university, and most of them had at least one or two drinks in one of the local bars or house parties.

So, there I was, stopped at a red light, when a group of six average-looking college aged white males crossed the intersection in front of me.  One of the men reached back to adjust something at the small of his back and before his shirt went back down, I clearly saw a pistol grip sticking up from the back of his blue jeans.  I immediately thought it looked like a .45 pistol.

Christopher Hawk/Quora Image

I called in a "man with a gun" to my dispatcher as I put the car in park, and then hit my squad car's overhead lights as I opened my door.  I unholstered and drew my gun up on-target, and had this guy clearly in my sights, center mass (pointed at the center of his back), as he looked over his shoulder at me and began turning towards me.

Time slowed.  I know I shouted, "Get on the ground!" at him several times, but the idiot kid actually reached back and pulled the gun out, then threw it into the gutter. It only took a second, but felt like ten or so.

Legally, I could have shot him when I first saw the gun in his hand as he brought it forward.  I was waiting to see if the barrel started coming up, but I recognized, even in that moment, that seeing the barrel would be too late if he wanted to shoot me. I remember thinking, "I'm about to kill you!" and a huge sense of relief as I saw him drop the gun. I was probably three pounds into my trigger's advertised 5.5 pound trigger weight when he dropped the gun.

When the gun hit the ground, I knew it was a BB gun — a replica .45 semi-auto, but he didn't have the CO2 canister in it, so the little knob on the bottom wasn't there.

It clattered on the concrete gutter pan with a rattle, not the solid “thunk” that a real pistol would have. 

I still ordered the kid down; I wasn't 100% sure the gun was just a BB gun. I was also concerned about the guy's buddies, since they might have interfered or even had their own guns with them.

The cavalry arrived quickly, but it felt like an hour while I kept the kid at gunpoint on the street.  Luckily, the friends stayed back (and, amazingly, stayed at the scene instead of taking off).

So, what was it like? It was terrifying, plain and simple. When I finally got the chance to talk to the damned fool, I was angry. He said he "thought it would be fun" to carry the gun with him to the bars, which he thought made perfect sense in that college aged I'm-not-really-thinking-about-possible-consequences-to-this-really-stupid-idea kind of way.

I had nightmares for a few days afterwards. I dreamt once or twice that I shot him dead, right there, then picked up the gun and saw it was fake. I woke up bawling once.  I also dreamt a few times about hesitating too long and seeing a .45 slug exploding out of the barrel towards me.  Those times, I woke up screaming, once sitting up with my hands extended like I was holding my pistol towards the kid in my dream.  In one dream, my Glock's slide dropped off as I drew it out of my holster. In another, the kid didn't have a gun with him. 

Yeah.  Not fun at all.

Edit: I should also mention that this occurred in Illinois before the concealed carry law passed.  It was illegal at the time to carry a handgun outside of your home or personally-owned business.

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