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Police, Senators, Community Activist Decry Cellphone Case Shaped Like Handgun

Authorities across the nation are warning about the dangers of a cellphone case that's shaped like a handgun, saying it could be mistaken for the real thing. The concern is heightened among elected officials and police agencies across New York State.

Leading the call against the case:  U.S. Senator  Charles Schumer of New York. He’s urging online retailers to stop selling it, while law enforcement officers are asking consumers not to buy it. Schumer says it lacks a required orange marking that identifies it as harmless.   The democrat cites advertisements that show the case displayed in a pocket, as though it's a real weapon, and calls the gun-shaped case a "disaster waiting to happen."   "A kid innocently puts it in his back pocket and it looks like he has a gun."

The iPhone accessory began to attract national attention in late June when New York city-based community activist Tony Herbert sounded an alarm, broadcast by Time Warner Cable's NY1.   “It’s not a joke. This item is being sold in our communities, we’re now researching exactly where. This will get you killed in our community. Do not purchase this item. I say this to our young people. This is a death trap."

Amazon told The New York Times (http://nyti.ms/1HNDxwO ) on Tuesday night that the item was no longer listed on its website. It can be Googled, but many online retail sites still displaying the item indicate that it is "no longer available." 

Law enforcers in New York and elsewhere have been expressing concerns about the foreign-manufactured product for weeks.   Herbert and fellow-activists want the case banned in the Big Apple. Schumer wants it banned nationwide.  "And we're working with the federal agencies to see if we can get them eliminated and not sold in this country. And we have the broad support of law enforcement."

That includes Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo:  "If it's something that's out there, you know we need to take a look at it, I need to like, you know, make my members, my road patrol members aware of it. It's just another thing that's out there that our people need to be made aware of."

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple says if you can't tell it's an iPhone, police or armed criminals won't be able to, either.      "I think it is ridiculous that this thing is being sold out there. We received a law enforcement training bulletin on this about a week and a half ago. We disseminated it to our rank and file to advise them that these are out there and be cautious, not because it can hurt you, but because if that's pointed at you , I don't want one of our officers shooting that individual, and that's the type of event that's going to occur."

Apple hasn't heard of any incidents involving the case being displayed in Albany County.  Republican State Senator George Amedore has introduced legislation calling for a statewide ban on the cases.   "This is a public safety issue, plain and simple. Law enforcement officials already have a difficult enough job to do. These props put our police officers and our citizens at risk and there is no reason they should be sold."

Again, Sheriff Apple...    "It's putting people in very bad positions. And again, we're just looking for people to use common sense. Try not to acquire that, and certainly do not bring it out into public. We're gonna urge our legislators to please try and get that banned as quickly as possible."

Schumer finds it particularly troubling that the case also can be used with a Russian roulette app that transforms the phone’s screen into the image of a gun barrel, completing the case's "gun look" - when the user touches the image of the trigger, the app plays the sound of a bullet firing.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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