Ex-Urbana officer weighs in after an 8-year-old boy was shot in the head
CHAMPAIGN – A former police officer and sailor said the idea of modifying a maritime flare gun to shoot live ammunition is “alarming.”
“Those devices are not designed to take that much PSI (pounds per square inch of pressure),” said Mike Miller of Champaign, who retired from the Urbana Police Department.
After leaving the department in 2008, Miller pursued his love of sailing and lived on a boat full-time from 2008 to 2013, so he’s familiar with flare guns.
“I’ve seen them and handled them. I know what they are for. They are certainly not for firing live ammunition. That is not what they are designed for,” said Miller, who was also a weapons instructor at the University of Illinois Police Training Institute for 20 years.
“The ones I’ve seen are actually plastic. They are firing a light projectile, a little piece of flaming material that burns in the atmosphere and lights up. It is not designed to be a projectile. It is just designed to shoot the flaming ordnance in the air so people can see it from a distance.”
The gun that an 8-year-old Urbana boy was shot in the head with Tuesday night was described as a modified flare gun. Devices can be purchased to insert in the barrel to accommodate different kinds of ammunition.
“Modifying existing mechanical devices is not new,” said Miller. “Street gangs were making zip guns in the 50s out of car antennas. Any number of mechanical devices can be used to set off ammunition. All it takes is a strong strike to the primer. “
“I’ve seen adapters that go the other way – rescue flares that can be fired from a shotgun. I have not seen flare guns designed to be firearms,” said Miller.
“That’s alarming. There are all kinds of safety devices on a firearm that are not on a flare gun. They are dangerous but not as dangerous as a firearm. To modify and keep in around a house, there’s no way to safely do that.”