On Tuesday, Jul. 11, 2023, a local mother was busy as always, making some food for her own four children and two of her young sons’ friends, who had been staying with the family for a sleepover.
The mother, who will not be named in order to protect the family’s privacy, knew she would be interrupted as she moved quickly around her kitchen and attempted to keep the kids outside playing; after all, life with young children is constantly interrupted. But what led to her having to drop everything was not something she’d expected at all.
The children were playing in the backyard of the family home, which abuts Third Avenue Park in the Kingscourt neighbourhood. The park, which also serves as a water reservoir for Utilities Kingston, sees a lot of traffic daily, be it children playing, people walking their dogs, or people simply cutting through the park to get from one place to another.
In an interview with Kingstonist the following day, the mother recalled that as she was making lunch, the boys, who had been playing in the park within view of the kitchen window, came flying back into the house.
“They were saying, ‘We found a gun! Come quick! You have to see, we found a gun!’” the mother said.
As most parents know, kids can sometimes exaggerate. The mom recalled with a laugh that her first thought was “Okay, what kind of super soaker has been left in the park now?’”
But the panicked look on the faces of the kids — and the fact they mentioned the gun was lying on the ground outside a tent — gave her pause.
“As soon as I heard that, I went with them. The tent was at the top of the hill, on top of the reservoir. I walked up, and absolutely, the gun was outside of the front of the tent,” the woman said, shock still evident in her voice.
According to the mom, there were also syringes and syringe wrappers scattered around. She decided to confront the occupants of the tent: a couple, as it turned out, who initially didn’t give much response but immediately opened their tent when she mentioned the gun. As she made her way back down the hill, the parent of one of the visiting boys, who lives right across the street, was on the phone outside. The boys had told her what they’d found, so she called police while the mom hosting the children went to investigate.
The police arrived “faster than I’ve ever seen, in a New York minute,” the mom recalled, noting there were a good dozen officers in the park within minutes. The children, energized and frightened from the experience, were asking questions a mile a minute. For the mother, it was important that she use that time to praise the kids for doing the right thing.
“They didn’t touch it. They did exactly what they should have done; they came to get an adult immediately,” she said. “I kept telling them they’d done a good job, reinforcing that they’d done the right thing.”
She watched as the couple began to dismantle the tent and the police searched the area. Then, she said, the couple just went on their way with their belongings. Shortly after, she watched as the officers descended the hill. But what happened next gave her yet another shock.
“They didn’t come to speak with us or the other parents. They just got in their cruisers and left,” the mom said, her disbelief evident.
“To me, it was a missed opportunity. The boys had done the right thing. They were worried and asking all sorts of questions, and they really could have benefited from the police coming and speaking with them. We want to reinforce building relationships with police, I thought…”
After her voice trailed off thoughtfully, the mom explained that she did receive a call from Kingston Police “about an hour or so later.” But the officer on the line wasn’t able to tell her much of anything other than that the gun was in fact an airsoft gun, a replica toy air gun often used in shooting games.
“He said it wasn’t an actual firearm, but mentioned that it could be dangerous in the wrong hands,” she recalled. “Well, it was lying on the ground in a park!”
The other mother, who had called police initially, didn’t get a call from police, according to the anonymous Kingscourt resident, even though she had indicated to the officer she spoke with that she’d like someone to come and talk to her sons about the incident.
“I know police often have initiatives for building relationships with the community, giving out ‘tickets for doing good’ or whatever. This officer had no idea what I was talking about, though,” she said.
The mother was quick to point out that she is not opposed to people who are hard on their luck setting up a tent to sleep and eat. “You do you,” she said. “We all have to do what we can.” But she also knows that those camping in Third Avenue Park have left a lot of garbage behind when they’ve moved on, and that in at least one instance, open baggies of controlled substances were located after campers had moved on.
“And in the eyes of a seven-year-old, a gun is a gun. Even I thought it looked like a gun!” she said.
In response to Kingstonist inquiries, Kingston Police said the gun was indeed an airsoft gun, which is not illegal to possess.
“Police did attend this area and located two individuals in a tent. I do not have any information about drug paraphernalia; however, an airsoft gun was in their possession. Both [individuals] were cooperative with police and moved along. No one was arrested or charged,” said Constable Ash Gutheinz, Media Relations Officer for Kingston Police.
While there have been multiple occasions when people with pellet guns or airsoft guns have been arrested and charged locally in the past, those instances involved a person pointing the firearm at someone else or using it as an imitation firearm during another crime, such as a robbery.
Pressed for details on why there were no charges in this instance, Gutheinz explained, “Having an airsoft gun is not the same as having a firearm. If it is being carried to be used as a weapon or actually used to harm someone, then yes, it will be considered as such, and charges such as assault with a weapon etc. would be applicable. In this case, however, the airsoft gun was simply in the area of the tent.”
Gutheinz said he had no information regarding children having located the airsoft gun.
But it’s the fact that children did locate the gun — and how they handled it — that has their mom perplexed about the apparent lack of police interest.
“Thankfully, [the kids] didn’t pick it up. But they could have,” she said. “And I had some very worried boys who had questions I couldn’t answer.”
“I’ve had to teach them about drugs and what they look like, and what syringes are, so that they don’t touch these things. And now guns, as well,” the mom concluded.
“It’s kind of a tough spot for me… I hope and I pray that they would always make that decision — not touch it, and tell an adult — but it was just such a lost opportunity with police presence and children. It’s very disappointing.”