Claim:   Criminals are modifying Super Soaker water guns to conceal shotguns or other large firearms.


MOSTLY FALSE


Example:   [Collected via Facebook, December 2014]


This is a fully functional shotgun, disguised to look like a toy. I suspect that we’ll be seeing more and more of this. Be careful out there.



 

Origins:   On 4 December 2014, the Facebook page Sheriff’s Deputies of Ohio posted a warning about a purportedly recent confiscation of Super Soakers (i.e., recreational water guns that utilizes pressurized air to shoot streams of water) that involved a real firearm modified to appear as an innocuous children’s toy. (The warning may have resonated due to the then-recent shooting death of 12-year-old Cleveland boy

Tamir Rice at the hands of police on 22 November 2014 in an incident involving a realistic-looking toy firearm.) The warning stemmed from an internal memo circulated by Indianapolis Metro Police which was not presented or intended for public distribution.

The Sheriff’s Deputies of Ohio Facebook post was shared more than a hundred thousand times, and a five-image set of photographs identified as showing a confiscated Super Soaker concealing a shotgun circulated widely on social media sites. A Reddit thread entitled “Local police seized a fully functional shotgun disguised as a toy gun” advanced the notion the images depicted a weapon recently confiscated by a specific police department, prompting law enforcement agents to send a warning to other officers and the public about a new and worrisome threat.

When the Super Soaker shotgun photographs swept Facebook in December 2014, the reason why the images had suddenly became popular was uncertain. Although the precise origin of the photos was difficult to discern, they were clearly not new: The very same images had been displayed in footage of a WNYW-TV (New York) segment posted to YouTube as early as 3 April 2012, and even then the presentation of the images lacked attribution, context, or background.

In or around early April 2012, that station discussed the Super Soaker shotgun images with a law enforcement representative:

Notably absent from the discussion were specifics such as whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys. Indianapolis police were vaguely mentioned as the source of the photos, but most of the content of the report was speculative and concerned how such a modified weapon could be used to cause harm. No specific crimes or suspected criminal acts were mentioned in connection with the pictures. At the time of their appearance in April 2012, the Super Soaker shotgun images were debated heavily on forums devoted to law enforcement and firearms. In addition to the technically incorrect aspects of the warning (the misidentification of the firearm), commenters questioned the motive or usefulness of modifying a large and garish toy to conceal a weapon, as any crimes that could be committed with a giant, colorful concealed weapon could more easily be undertaken with a smaller one that would draw no such notice.

The image circulated quietly between its appearance on the news in April 2012 and the popular Facebook warning in December 2014. In 2013, a blogger mistakenly identified the images as “recent” to November 2013 (when they were at least a year old) and claimed the pictured weapon had been confiscated from a gang member:



There was also a recent instance where a gang member hollowed out the body of a large “Super Soaker” squirt gun so that it could disguise a pistol-gripped Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun! Make sure you know for certain before you bet your life that the robber is carrying a toy!

There is one documented instance in which police claimed to have located a Super Soaker modified to conceal a firearm. In May 2012, Fresno police arrested a man named Randy Smith on a number of charges, among them were weapons charges relating to a water gun made to conceal an actual firearm:



Smith faces a laundry list of charges, including being a convicted felon in possession of ammunition, a felon in possession of a firearm, manufacture of an illegal weapon and a misdemeanor warrant.

“Something different every day; and certainly this person was up to no good. He was out there with what would seem to the uneducated person to be a child’s toy, where as these officers are now confronted with a shotgun,” [Fresno Sergeant Mark] Hudson said.



In the above instance, the plot over which Smith was accused made sense: The suspect was prohibited from possessing firearms, which would reasonably inspire his concealment of weapons. That also seems to be the only documented instance to date of police finding a gun disguised as a Super Soaker.

The original images began to circulate at least one month before the Fresno incident (April and May of 2012 respectively). Between the circulation of the pictures in April 2012, Smith’s arrest in May 2012, and the recirculated warning in December 2014, no additional news reports involving Super

Soaker shotguns have emerged. The only images in circulation are the ones involved in the December 2014 warning and those released by police in Fresno after Smith’s arrest.

At some point, the images were sent internally by Indianapolis Metro Police, but it is not clear what context was provided for the photos at that juncture. If the images were legitimately linked to a crime, that information could be part of an ongoing investigation and restricted. Indianapolis Metro Police confirmed that the photos neither originated with their department nor were issued as a warning to the public. It’s possible that they were forwarded between individual officers in the course of a private conversation and later mistaken by another party to be a warning.

On 17 December 2014, a Fox affiliate television station in Nashville recirculated the warning and claimed that real guns disguised as toys were part of a “trend” increasing across the United States. The report was video only and stated that no incidents of such a weapon’s being confiscated had been confirmed. Facebook fans of the news station immediately pointed out that the images used in the report consisted of previously circulated images (seen above) mixed with ones taken from GlamGuns.com, a parody web site with a disclaimer that reads:



This site is a parody for humor purposes only. No actual weapons may be bought on this site. “Hello Kitty” is a trademark of Sanrio, Inc. You’re taking the wrong drugs if you think that Sanrio would ever license the use of Hello Kitty for a firearm or weapon of any sort. “Disney Princess” is a trademark of the Walt Disney Company. “CareBear” and “Rainbow Brite” are trademarks of American Greetings Corporation and/or Hallmark. There is no such thing as “Sucking-Chest-Wound Bear.” “My Little Pony” and “Easy-Bake Oven” are trademarks of Hasbro. “Martha Stewart Colors” is a trademark of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners. GlamGuns.com has no connection with and is not affiliated with Sanrio, Inc, Hasbro, Walt Disney Company, Hallmark, American Greetings Corporation, Nickelodeon, Nickelodeon UK, Nick Jr., Martha Stewart, Omnimedia, Inc, Paris Hilton, Mother Theresa, Lady Diana, or, in fact, much of anyone really, especially Dick Cheney who, at no time, was CEO of our corporation or even on the Board of Directors. No, really. Would we lie to you?

The Facebook post was punctuated with a suggestion that fans “SHARE & WARN,” but the affiliate did not elaborate as to what such a warning might entail. None of the iterations of this claim have articulated precisely why those up to no good might endeavor to disguise a gun as a toy in lieu of concealing an unmodified weapon, nor has any potential criminal activity (hypothetical or actual) been posited as a reasonable outcome involving a firearm modification of this nature.

The Nashville Fox affiliate referenced a Memphis Police Facebook warning issued on 6 December 2014. As in prior and subsequent versions of the claim, the warning was appended with a disclaimer noting that no incidents remotely involving real guns disguised as toys had occurred at any point in time in Memphis, but that the department was certain they “exist.” No information substantiating that claim was provided.

In summation, there’s no evidence confirming police in any jurisdiction have discovered the weapons seen in these images in the course of their day-to-day law enforcement duties, and without additional context it’s impossible to say whether the images accurately represent weapons confiscated by law enforcement. The instance involving a single individual charged with possessing a modified water gun firearm occurred after the original images began to circulate on the Internet. The photos were not taken by any police department in 2014, and they demonstrably did not represent a recent confiscation at that time. No incidents other than the one in Fresno have been documented, and that arrest was not gang related. Lastly, the scenario presented in the warning is fairly implausible: almost any crime that could be committed using a gun concealed as a Super Soaker could be committed with a gun concealed underneath clothing or inside a less preposterous or more common object.

Last updated:   20 September 2015