Police Sound Warning On "Gun Prank War"

(Fernando Salazar /The Wichita Eagle via AP)

Over the past decade or so, the rise of video-based social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok and the ubiquitous nature of smartphones have led to an explosion in idiotic and dangerous stunts, from the “knockout games” reported by the media in 2013 to the more recent “blackout challenge” that has led to at least one death this year.

Now, police in the small North Carolina town of Roxboro are warning teens not to indulge in the latest bit of online stupidity- the “gun prank war“.

The Roxboro Police Department responded to several reports of people pointing what look like real guns at drivers and other people as part of a “gun prank war,” according to a post on the department’s Facebook page. The warning has been shared over 900 times since it was posted just before 7 p.m. on Monday.

Roxboro is a city of roughly 8,300 people about 30 miles north of Durham.

Police said they “stopped several cars to find young people who admit to playing this game.”

“This (is) a dangerous and potentially deadly game to play,” Roxboro police said in the post. “There is nothing funny about this game. We urge those playing to stop immediately before you are arrested or prank the wrong person ending in tragic consequences.”

I don’t know about you, but I really wish the Roxboro Police Department hadn’t tried to sugarcoat the risks involved here by obliquely referring to “tragic consequences.” How about something a little more direct and to the point, like “if you want strangers to think you’re threatening them, you run the real risk of being shot and killed as a result.”

That’s not a hypothetical. We’ve already seen one person shot and killed this year after trying to stage a “prank robbery” in Nashville, Tennessee back in February.

Timothy Wilks was fatally shot in the parking lot of Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park around 9:25 p.m. Friday, according to a Metropolitan Nashville Police Department statement. When officers arrived, 23-year-old David Starnes Jr. admitted that he had shot Wilks, believing himself and others to be in danger.

According to police, Wilks and a friend approached a group of people, including Starnes, with butcher knives. It was supposed to be a prank robbery for a YouTube video, the friend told detectives.

The Charlotte Observer also found at least one other incident in North Carolina earlier this year where the “prank” victim ended up injured.

In April, a woman 90 miles away in Lexington, North Carolina, said she was hurt trying to run away after a teenager jumped out from behind a car wielding a toy gun as part of a senior prank, ABC 45 reported.

She told the TV station she had to go to an emergency room and get an MRI after the incident.

Besides the inherent risks to life and limb that come from pretending to threaten a stranger with a gun or knife, the mindless morons who might be inclined to partake in these activities should also be aware that in many states, if you use a fake gun in a way that’s designed to make people believe it’s a real gun, you can be charged as if you were using an actual firearm. Brandishing a toy gun at someone as a prank could result in real prosecution, if it doesn’t end up with the prankster shot by someone who believes their life is being threatened.

My motto these days is “everything is stupid and it’s only getting worse,” and stories like this don’t do anything to change my mind. I’d like to think that we as nation haven’t descended so far into Idiocracy that we don’t have to tell the next generation not to point a fake gun at strangers because they might get shot as a result. Clearly that’s too much to ask, so, for anyone who needs it here’s a public service announcement:

Don’t point fake guns at strangers because you might get shot as a result. 

Thanks for listening. And now a word from our sponsor: Brawndo, the thirst mutilator.