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by Debra Keipp, December 23, 2013
My neighbor sued me on the advice of our local deputy. She wanted to retrieve what looked like a broken down replica of a pistol — a black metal pellet pistol with a CO2 charge capsule. I’d taken the pistol from her son’s playmate. The owner of the pellet gun and his two friends had been shooting at animals, cars and windows inside the Point Arena city limits, which is what kids do when they’re home alone and break out the “toy guns.” In most major municipalities, as with the tiny City of Point Arena, California, population 420, there are ordinances against shooting toy guns inside the city limits. The State Department of Fish and Wildlife as well as the Penal Code, address the use of “toys” like bb and pellet guns by minors. These three boys weren’t yet teenagers. They were ten and eleven years old, and totally without supervision by any one of their possible six parents. Three small boys wandering around by themselves with a pellet gun. What could go wrong?
The mother of the child who had the gun said she was at work in the next town 13 miles to the north when I took it from the boys. It didn’t disturb her that her children played with the thing while she was away. The father was not at home either. Neither parent had any idea of what had happened other than they knew their boy was innocent.
They took me to court. I had the case moved to Ukiah. In my experience, there’s no justice at Fort Bragg’s Ten Mile Court. In Ukiah, you at least get a semi-professional judge and a courtroom atmosphere free of cheerleading from the clerical staff. They’re more apt to listen to the law in Ukiah than Fort Bragg for some reason. In Ukiah, I, defendant, plastered my defendant’s table with photocopies of the seized pellet pistol in actual size and color. I asked the parent plaintiff a series of 20 questions related to her responsibility for supervision of her son’s use of the gun. The kindly old judge talked to the plaintiff through a translator. He told her the case was a serious matter in that law enforcement officers are trained to shoot to kill. Any officer would be within his legal rights to shoot her son if he rounded a corner and suddenly saw the boy with a gun pointed in the officer’s direction. The officer, the judge explained, doesn’t have time to determine if the shooter has a toy gun or a real gun. That’s where, the judge said, the parents hold sole responsibility because they’ve created the potentially dangerous situation of allowing their kid to possess a toy gun manufactured to look like a deadly weapon. My neighbor lost her lawsuit against me. But in a good way. The judge chose to educate the young immigrant mother directly about what could happen to her son if a cop didn’t know his gun was a toy. In Point Arena we have a large hard-working Latino population who have escaped the drug wars in Michoacan. When the young family moved in next door, fresh from Mexico, no one in the household spoke English. Six people lived in a two-bedroom apartment — eight when the grandparents arrived, and then an even dozen when cousins lost their place and moved in, too. My new neighbors named their oldest son after the infamous drug lord, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, of the Sinaloa drug cartel. A new baby came, and they dressed him like a thug with his little jeans worn down around his bum-crack, and his diapers sticking out above the jeans, backwards ball cap and tee-shirts with gangsta rap slogans bigger than the size of his toddler chest. Odd, I thought, that they’d dress their infant as a gangster when they say they came to Point Arena to escape the murdering cartels of Michoacan.
Sure enough, their sons grew up to tear through town, damaging the local Computer Tech Center, their schools, stealing DVDs and headphones from the library, and shooting and injuring animals. The older son, the animal abuser, made a bee-line straight for Juvenile Halll where he’s now a regular. The peaceful Latino family on the other side of me had lived in their place for 20 years before I moved in next door to them. They were great neighbors and kindly people employed for decades in the community of Elk. They didn’t speak English either, but we had no problem communicating. Their mannerly son enjoyed solitary hours reading books on my two acre meadow, where he was always welcome. Over the years, the plaintiff’s oldest son, pre-pellet gun, became adept at the slingshot. He was a crack shot at every bird within slinging distance. He became a killer, and loved it. Birds were dropping left and right. I found a grebe wounded in my meadow; it hid under my feed storage trailer until my dogs found it shot under the wing. The neighbor girls down the street informed me that I should buy larger collars for my dogs so “little Chapo,” as the girls tagged him, could not tighten their collars to the last notch trying to strangle the dogs. I made the tightest notch loose enough so my dogs wouldn’t strangle if little sicko tightened their collars to choke them. The kid was good at luring animals to him so he could kill or hurt them. We’re talking bad seed here. Eventually this lost boy graduated to a pellet pistol owned by his father, who also bought him a .22 toy pump action pellet rifle. The boy was soon on my property killing the birds along the creek with better accuracy than he’d managed with his slingshot, disregarding entirely my years of NO HUNTING postings on my place. The boy’s landlord, whom locals refer to as one of Mill Street’s two slumlords, is a chronic self-serving, vote-stealing, serial City Council/Planning Commissioner. He falsely informed his tenants that my property was open space for them to use as their backyard, and that I had no right to ask them not to use it for their hunting grounds. Killer Kid, sanctioned by his family and their landlord, concluded he could do whatever he wanted. He shot up the windshields of my three vehicles and what had been the dry feed storage trailer on my property. His parents never admitted any fault, nor paid for any of the damage their son did. The local deputy told me I needed witnesses to file complaints because I lived alone. Calls to law enforcement were of no use in Point Arena. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman tells Mendocino South Coasters not to depend on distant law enforcement, but to buy guns to protect themselves. The day I took the gun from the boys, I heard their pellet pistol with the familiar sounding CO2 charge capsule going off in the front yard. (The CO2 gives the shot more velocity.) I ran up my driveway and rounded the corner of my house to find three boys passing the pellet pistol from one to the other as they fired at a cat under some parked cars. Pellets were zinging off the pavement and sidewalk, tinging off the metal cars. Killer Kid had already ignored my direct warnings to him to stop shooting the pellet gun in town and to definitely stay off my property with or without guns. His mother would just smile and mock me, her son free to do what he liked. I took the gun away from them and went to look for whatever parent I could find. I walked over to the bank to speak with the bank manager to allow the mother of one of the boys who was caught shooting the gun some time to talk to me. She worked in the bank. Her son had followed me there. The other two boys, including the owner of the gun, had run off. Outside the bank, the remaining boy, a ten-year-old, insulted me as his mother looked on. I said to his mother, “You let your son mouth off disrespectfully to adults like that? I see what’s going on with you. You could be part of the problem here.”
Killer Kid’s mom worked in another town; her son had invited kids to his house to shoot while she was at work. I could see that the mother’s disregard for ordinary standards of behavior was born out of blind ignorance, carelessness and bad parenting. I figured (as the only adult present) it was time to intercede, to take the gun, because the boy refused to stop shooting holes in my windshields and killing birds in my meadow, not to mention sadistically strangling my dogs, and teaching other children to follow his gangsta lead. He never said a word, or taunted me with bad language like the bank teller’s boy. He said exactly nothing, and simply smiled his sick sinister smile as he did exactly as he pleased while destroying all around him, mute and mocking. Aside from what I had witnessed him doing first hand, his brother and cousins, one of whom I tutored in an after school program, ratted him out to me. They didn’t like him. He was a chronic bully, but as oldest son in a gang-worshiping traditional Mexican family, was given free rein of his free will — over others. Every other day when the kids next door broke out the guns, there were no parents at home. As word spread among the kids that they could shoot guns without supervision down on Mill Street, more children flocked to the neighbors for the chance to shoot guns. Killer Kid was leading bird hunting safaris along the creek on my property. Usually a loner, suddenly he had friends to shoot his guns with him. He’d invite them to my place if I wasn’t on my property. If I was present, the hunting parties would stay up on Mill Street and wait for me to leave. They finally did themselves in when they let fly with expensive city water at a huge wasp nest hanging from my shed over Point Arena Creek. I had been letting the nest grow for three years. I’d never been stung. Like most people, I thought the nest was beautiful. One day, I was riding my bike home from downtown when I saw eight kids pouring out of my driveway in a cloud of swarming hornets. They were screaming and tearing at their clothes and hair. They’d knocked the nest loose with my water hose; it was still running Point Arena’s expensive water onto the ground as the tumult of bees and trespassers ran down the street. Their parents were silent when I asked whereabouts on Mill Street their children had been stung. The day I took the gun, the kids had to wait for their parents to come home before they called the Sheriff to report their gun as “stolen.” The responding deputy encouraged the parents to file a complaint against me. The deputy came to my property the next day to talk to me about my confiscation of the gun. I was watering my horses when he arrived with his priorities upside down. I was incredulous, balking at his suggestion that I return the pistol to an unsupervised wild child, he demanded again that I return the pellet pistol to “them.” He was six and one-half feet tall and angry. At me. I wondered if he’d the let the fun-loving rover boys loose with pellet guns on his property. “Them?” I asked him who he considered “them,” the parents or their kids? I told him I didn’t have their gun. That only made him angrier, and he again demanded that I return the pellet gun to “them.” He said there was nothing written in the law saying that a kid couldn’t shoot his gun in the city limits. In fact there were several city ordinances plus the Penal Code and Fish & Wildlife regulations pertaining to “toy” guns. It is illegal to shoot a gun in the city limits of Point Arena, even though one hundred years ago along the Barbary Coast of Point Arena gun laws were unimaginable.) Enforcement was the problem. Odd that our deputy wouldn’t know about something as elementary as enforcement of gun law as it relates to children. I told the deputy I’d thrown the pistol into the water, gesturing down Arena Cove Canyon. It would not be returning. Ever. End of “pellet pistol operated by little boys without adult supervision.” When the deputy got no relief from his request for me to return the kid’s pellet pistol, he marched out of my meadow, stopping to make a disparaging remark about a pile of old stripped bicycle frames I’d collected for the Bicycle Rodeo folks who come to the Point Arena parade every few years and use spare bike parts to create their pedal-operated parade floats, bicycle merry-go-round and pedal-operated two-person Ferris wheel carnival rides. For several years parade entrants from out of town (including a few of the Bike Rodeo crew and Extra Action Marching Band) had been camping out on my meadow property on parade weekend. It was a public service and an honor to host these fine performers, not to mention one really excellent weekend of food, music and bon fires. I’d always kept the river willows trimmed off the fence line along Point Arena Creek and generally kept the meadow in pristine condition. It was beautiful back there behind Point Arena Creek, although it was a struggle to keep it private and peaceful. And alive. Validated by law enforcement’s efforts to return the pellet gun to him, Killer Kid then took his other gun, a pellet rifle, up Main Street to the fire/ambulance garage North of town where he shot out a window. A member of the ambulance crew and I were both driving by but in opposite directions when Killer Kid shot out the window. Here was a young kid, not yet a teenager, carrying his .22 pellet rifle up Main and Lake Streets to shoot out a window of the ambulance garage right next to the high school. He smiled at us when he saw us watching, and sauntered off at a slow pace, eyes scanning for another target through that sick grin.
Mom would smile and giggle, winking at her little gangsta like his bad behavior was their little joke. While BBs and pellets aren’t meant to kill, they sometimes do, directly or inadvertently. Before disposing of the pellet gun I photocopied several actual size copies of the gun just in case, to show its appearance and actual size: a pistol in a black metal casing with the words from the toymaker inscribed, “This is not a toy. Use in the presence of adult supervision only.” Even though they’re called “toy guns,” they have printed on them that they’re not “toys.” Even crazier, by law, this must be printed on all toy guns, although it is usually obscured, printed black on black, or transparent, and purposely made difficult to see. Lately (more) laws have tried to force toy makers into manufacturing toy guns that have bright pediatric colors in their construction, so they can be more easily distinguished from the genuine weapon. In a world where people are accidentally shot by cops for pulling their black billfold or comb out of their pockets, why not simply make toy guns resemble something other than an AK-47? Remember the space-aged shape of toy “ray-guns,” which actually looked like a toy? Face it, unsupervised toy guns and violent video games have become an American child’s gateway to killing. The trip to court to defend myself cost me about $600 even though I “won.” Killer Kid’s family never paid any of my costs nor hers, I’m sure. And, the child’s mother refused to take responsibility for the actions of herself or her child, although we saw less of their guns. And her son, now in his teens, is in and out of Juvenile Hall. Mom blames it all on her husband. They’re no longer together. One day, a few years after that court session, Killer Kid flew by my car window, fleeing my meadow on a dead run. I had just returned home, surprising him as I parked my car. He had a 2×4 redwood club in his hand when I first saw him. I watched him throw it into the creek as he ran hard up and out of my driveway. I caught him. It’s the first time I’d ever seen him looking scared. When I looked where he’d been when I first saw him, I noticed my quarter horse spinning in circles trying to regain his footing, freshly drawn blood trickling from his blonde forehead where the psychotic teenager had planted the hefty club right between the very tame gelding’s ears hard enough to make him stagger and bleed. Again, no parents home. The kid wouldn’t answer the door. He had locked himself in. I went to the creek and grabbed the 2×4 and beat on their front door so maybe he’d hear me better. Still no answer. Nothing from the Sheriff’s office, as usual, when I called in the little psycho’s vicious attack on my pet horse. Months after-the-fact, the deputy advised me that I should have called animal control. It seemed more of a human control problem to me. Most of us are on to Little Killer now. We see him in the wee hours on his walks around town, testing car doors, letting chickens out of people’s yards, stealing gas cans, and leaving private gates open. He’s a small boy, younger-looking than his years, but he’s no child, and he’s very, very dangerous, more dangerous by the day. The AVA once printed a statement by Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman promising to fire lying deputies. I cut it out and put it in Killer Kid’s Ukiah Courthouse file. It can’t be a good idea to ignore a child’s shooting of a charged pellet pistol resembling a real gun or walking through town with his .22 pellet rifle to shoot out a firehouse window. One day, the deputy, in uniform, stopped in front of the liquor store where he was asked by a group of resident pedestrians about laws for kids shooting pellet guns in the city limits. The deputy scoffed, “There aren’t any,” and drove off. I finally went for the three-hour round trip to Tom Allman’s office in Ukiah and asked him, “What exactly does our law enforcement dollar pay for in Point Arena?” He became angry and showed me the door.