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Published September 18 2010

Fake-gun ordinance talk reignites after Moorhead park incident

The call came in at 5:30 p.m. Thursday: A man with a 9-mm pistol and 40 shotgun shells was walking near the bridge in Moorhead’s Gooseberry Park.

Moorhead police officers scrambled to the park, sneaking up on the subject with guns and a K-9 unit, Lt. Tory Jacobson said.

The pistol turned out to be a replica painted black, as were the other handguns and a shotgun carried by the five filmmakers/actors who didn’t inform police or the neighborhood that they would be filming a movie in the park, Jacobson said.

He said the serious situation, which consumed almost an hour of officers’ time, reinforced the need for a replica-gun ordinance being mulled by the Moorhead City Council.

“We see this as a continual problem that isn’t addressed,” he said.

The people involved in Thursday’s incident, three men and two women all in their early 20s, were “very cooperative” with police, Jacobson said.

“They weren’t intending any ill,” he said. “They were running with fake guns and just kind of used poor judgment thinking that this is an acceptable thing because there’s no law against it or ordinance.”

The ordinance proposed by police would make it illegal to carry a “facsimile” firearm in Moorhead.

It’s already illegal under Minnesota law to display or brandish a replica firearm “in reckless disregard of the risk of causing terror in another person.”

Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger has said the city ordinance would go a step further and make it illegal simply to carry a facsimile firearm. Some council members have questioned whether a local ordinance is necessary.

The council’s Committee of the Whole will discuss the ordinance next on Nov. 1, City Manager Michael Redlinger said.

Jacobson said the replica guns were holstered when officers arrived at the park. Still, he said, the call had officers on high alert, their first thought being that the armed man walking toward the Red River may have been intending to commit suicide and could be mentally unstable.

“We’re thankful that it resolved the way it did,” he added.

One of the five people, local filmmaker Sonny Fernandez, wrote about the incident afterward on his Facebook page.

“Got handcuffed tonight, police dog was barking at me, cops were waving guns around,” he wrote. “Don’t worry, they let us go because you know ... we weren’t doing ANYTHING wrong, just making a movie ... but damn that was awesome. Another night of filming n (sic) the can!”

Messages left on Fernandez’s phone and Facebook account weren’t immediately returned Friday afternoon.

On Aug. 27, Fargo police arrested a 36-year-old man for allegedly pointing a BB gun in another man’s face and threatening to kill him.

Fargo Assistant Police Chief Todd Osmundson said at the time that Fargo hasn’t discussed a replica ordinance but is watching to see what Moorhead does.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528