The so-called “clown gun” places a bullet-catching device in front of the muzzle to slow the first shot and reduce lethal force.
A “clown gun” might sound like a toy pistol with a BANG! flag sticking out, but it’s actually an innovative new piece of weapons technology getting a look from the Toronto police.
The Police Services board is reacting to a coroner’s recommendation that the force “continue to explore new technologies in the area of less lethal use of force options” after the fatal shooting of Donald Thompson, who threatened officers with a machete in 2013.
Police representatives are reportedly meeting with California-based Alternative Ballistics, which manufactures a simple device that catches a bullet inside a metal ball and slows it down so it strikes a target, but doesn’t penetrate it.
The device – marketed as The Alternative – “will capture the bullet and reduce the shot to about 20 per cent of its regular speed,” says Alternative Ballistics executive Bert Rhine. “Our human effects studies show that there’s less than a two per cent chance of penetration. With a bullet, there’s a 100 per cent chance.”
Toronto officers use Glock handguns which – depending on the specific model – can fire rounds at a speed of 403 metres/second, or 1,453 km/h. The Alternative would slow that shot to 290 km/h, which Rhine says is not lethal “unless you hit [a suspect] in the wrong place.
“They could break a rib and it’ll hurt, it’ll inflict some serious pain, and at that point, we believe the officer can take control of the situation.”
Rhine says there are no reported cases of a fatality, although admits that the device isn’t currently in front-line use by any police force.
Despite the nickname, the device isn’t actually a gun, but just a sleeve that fits the aluminum-silver alloy bulb in front of the gun barrel to catch the first shot. Any subsequent shots are fired with full force. The bulb was originally painted orange, leading to the frivolous nickname.
However, the name no longer applies since the bulb is now silver, not orange. Rhine says the silver looks more ominous, and also helps other officers on the scene see whether an officer has already fired.
Rhine emphasizes that it’s not meant for use against suspects with guns, but is ideal for suspects with knives or baseball bats, for example. Police forces have expressed great interest in The Alternative, including the department in Ferguson, MO.
The device retails for US$45. The Police Services Board meets Thursday, when Chief Mark Saunders will address the question of further exploring the use of “clown guns.”