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.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (21)
  1. David Carothers says:

    What is interesting to note in the photographs I saw, none of the kids seem to be putting their fingers on the trigger and there is no magazine in the firearm. Nor are the rifles being waved around like toys. I can’t imagine a safer way to learn about firearms. Thank you Santa Rosa PD.

  2. John Seed says:

    Just goes to prove that if you have zero experience with firearms you don’t know what to look for. No magazines in the weapons, no fingers on the trigger and they are being supervised by (Gasp) the POLICE. Oh no the worlds going to end, the horror, the horror … As a parent I would want my child to learn how to handle any weapon safely and under the guidance of a trained professional.

  3. Fred P. says:

    This eraction is not at unexpected from politicians or handwringing naysayers; they would rather feel all warm and cuddly in their protective cocoon, while pretending that all is well – instead of educating their kids as to the realities of life…

    Given the amount of training that SWAT teams go through, I have absolutely no problem in them allowing kids to handle the firearms – it’s a great chance to educate them – SAFELY.

    Educating people with the FACTS is a good thing – so do it wisely! It’s better than the alternative…… Can you imagine them watching politicians? Now, THERE’S a respulsive picture!

    Again, factual knowledge is GOOD!

  4. Baird Tarr says:

    A supervised(by a professionhal) encounter with an unloaded weapon at a public event. How is this wrong? Guns are part of the community. Teaching children the safety aspects of firearms is somehow horrifying to some people.

  5. Ponzian says:

    I applaud the Santa Rosa PD. This was an attempt to make a positive community outreach. To criticize the PD for that is just another example of short sighted ideolouges missing the bigger picture.

  6. john says:

    To quote Thomas Jefferson: A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.
    — Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 1785. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson

    I think if Thomas Jefferson advocated the “handling” of guns over ballgames, who are we to disagree with him?

  7. Gary Schlotterbeck says:

    I grew up in western Maryland where hunting is a way of life. I was taught at a very early age how to first, respect guns for what they can do and later how to handle them SAFELY. But I have also been a first responder that has responded to accidental shootings by a child; one fatal. So I have mixed feelings about this. I know that in several instances children have mistaken real guns for toys (they were never taught anything about guns) and a shooting occurred. If the intention here is to prevent that type of accident from happening then I’m all for it. (the weight of a real gun is so much heavier than toy guns, so allowing a kid to handle a real gun in a protected environment may be a good way to teach a kid gun safety with all of the guns in homes these days. However if it is just to show off guns I’m not so much in favor of it.

  8. wintersa says:

    Wow, I saw a bunch of children, some as young a 5 yrs, playing with deadly weapons like they were toys. Some where swinging them wildly, others had more control. Worse yet there was a bunch of adults cheering them on. It was a Little League game.

    These liberal whiners are just a bunch of ballons!

  9. Big G says:

    Really whose complaining left leaning reporters & Politicians!! Regular every day humans saw nothi8ng of this. Why does the Media try to create news & drams for no reason!!

  10. Kodiax says:

    the people who were upset over this make me want to PUKE. im betting their great grandparents were shooting firearms at an early age.
    who better to teach proper respect and use of weapons than a SWAT officer?!?!?!?!
    kneejerk emotional thoughtless responses like the ones prompting this article are clear signs of the out right IDIOCY of sheeple.

  11. Mark says:

    Well said everyone! I really have nothing to add; you have it pretty well covered, and I agree completely.

  12. WHOA says:

    This kind of Baloney makes me wonder why I read this websites articles. Oh I forgot. They have an accurate weather predictions.

  13. Tours Martel says:

    Given the general immaturity and irresponsibility of the liberal press, one can understand why they would be concerned. They judge others by their own low standards of “if it feels good, do it”. The press is incapable of believing in the ability of the American people to conduct their own affairs without the “guidance” of their betters.

  14. Dana says:

    If the SWAT team wants to teach my child gun saftey, then I’m all for it! Thank you Santa Rosa PD and SWAT for being responsible teachers!

  15. Michael Aschoff says:

    When they’re old enough to know what they are, they should be immediately educated NOT TO POINT IT AT ANYTHING THEY DON”T WANT TO KILL.

    -As well, how to know the safety is on and how to unload it properly … actual shooting comes later.

  16. Adrian says:

    I grew up on Military Bases and was allowed to do what these youngsters are doing in this photo under supervision. I also went hunting with my Dad at a young age. I have nothing to do with guns today and have never broken the law regarding anything. Learning about firearms gave me respect for them and the people who use them to protect us through the military and police. If anything more training in this area and those areas taught in the scouts should be available to all children so that they are prepared for emergencies and events that come up in life.

  17. John Imrie says:

    I attended a Christian summer camp in Colorado in sixth grade, where riflery was part of the package. We learned to respect our guns, we learned that they are dangerous but if you use them properly they won’t hurt you. Not a bad lesson for a kid

  18. Art says:

    Thumbs up SRPD. It sounds like you need to give some firearms training to Elaine and Marsha. Children need proper firearms training. It prevents accidents and saves lives.

  19. Jay Barnewold says:

    Thanks, SRPD. The kids had their hands off of the trigger, no mag in the rifle, and everybody was happy.

    The Brady Bunch needs to realize that, not only did they form America, but that guns are used for sport, hunting, and even collecting.

  20. He says:

    I remember going to an air show during the 80’s at Moffet Field where kids were allowed to hold handguns and rifles. Wasnt a big deal then. Whats the world coming to. How’s this any different from kids playing with mock toy rifles from toys R us?

  21. John Applebury says:

    Bravo on SRPD for teaching some kids about firearms and firearm safety. Nobody was in any danger, and I’m sure the police officers didn’t tell these children “HURR DURR SHOOTAN GUNZ IS FUN KIDS BRING YOURS TO SCHOOL AND SHOOT YOUR FRIENDS!”

    Education is key to teaching children to react to potentially dangerous situations. It’s the same reason we teach them about sex, drugs, and pedophiles.

    If there is no previous knowledge present, they are more likely to do something stupid.