25 Investigates: Gun replicas have been linked to hundreds of police shootings nationwide

Some towns like Boston and Lowell have banned toy or replica guns and allow for police to confiscate them, but many have no law or ordinance in place. The realistic-looking replicas have been linked to hundreds of police shootings across the country.

BOSTON — New information was released on Tuesday on the investigation into a police-involved shooting that left a Brigham & Women’s Hospital valet team member seriously hurt and a suspect dead on Feb. 7.

On the day of the incident, Boston Police and State Police troopers pursued the suspect, Juston Root, 41, into Brookline where he hit multiple cars before crashing in the area of Route 9 and Hammond Street. After crashing, police say Root got out of the car and was ordered to drop his gun, which he allegedly did not drop. Multiple officers, including a state trooper, then fired at Root.

He was taken to Beth Israel Hospital where he died. The incident at Brigham & Women’s prompted an active shooter alert, which was cleared soon after.

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District Attorney Rachael Rollins said the suspect had a “replica firearm” that was not operational. She also said that the valet bystander was hit by a bullet discharged by a police officer’s gun.

25 Investigates took a look at how many times replica guns have been implicated in police shootings like the one at Brigham & Women’s.

Replica gun laws vary by city and state, but locally, Boston and Lowell have passed ordinances banning replica handguns. Both cities allow police to confiscate the replicas if found in public places.

Since replicas often look so real it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart from real ones, in high-pressure situations like standoffs, they present a serious issue for police officers.

According to the Washington Post, at least 175 people brandishing toy or replica guns have been shot and killed by police nationwide since 2015, the same year Boston passed a law banning them across the city. At least four of those deaths occurred in Massachusetts.

“Officers in a split second moment when they are under assault and are defending themselves or others aren’t going to have the ability to make that assessment; [they] won’t have the time to make that assessment and unfortunately these events will wind up with officers using lethal force,” said Former Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief Dan Linskey.

Federal law requires replica guns to be sold with a bright orange plug at the end of the barrel, but those can easily be removed or painted over. The law doesn’t cover pellet and BB guns.

Some gun companies even have deals with toy replica manufacturers that allow their guns to be reproduced to exact specifications.