SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) – A display by a police Special Weapons and Tactics team at a community event in Santa Rosa has prompted criticism and discussion over the appropriateness of allowing children to handle guns.
Photos which appeared in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat show children as young as five years old holding and aiming an assault rifle during a festival at Martin Luther King Junior Park in a primarily minority area of Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa Police SWAT had set up an exhibit showing the equipment they use.
“At what age is it appropriate to start teaching kids about gun safety?” said Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm. “Some people, maybe in their personal lives, they didn’t encounter guns until later in life. Other members of our community, children are seeing them at a much younger age.”
Elaine Holtz, a member of the city’s Community Advisory Board, said seeing young children playing with deadly weapons shocked her.
“This looks like to me when you go in the Fairgrounds and shoot those guns,” said Holtz. “That’s what it looks like. But this is serious business. This is the SWAT team!”
“These kids were handling these guns like they were toys,” said Holtz. “And they are not toys. They are very dangerous weapons.”
The photos of the children holding guns were circulated among concerned citizens and forwarded to the Santa Rosa City Council. Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre told the Press Democrat she was “alarmed and devastated” by the display.
Police and festival organizers defend the display and interaction with children as a proper outreach to the community, in line with other efforts to reach out to the people the department serves.
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