Jon Tevlin
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I bought it at Butler Drug on 26th and Nicollet using hoarded lunch money. It was a Wasp 8-shot, all black, with a metal cylinder that snapped out for easy loading. The toy cap gun had an orange plug at the end of the barrel to distinguish it from a real gun, but I quickly learned that you could take a screwdriver to remove the cap or simply paint it black using leftovers from my model car kits.

I looked up my “piece” on classic toy websites and found out it was an “Edison Giocattoli Wasp 8-shot plastic toy cap gun made in Italy,” still available online for about $15.

Back in the 1960s, most of my friends had them. Our battleground ranged from the vacant lot on Clinton Avenue to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Fair Oaks Park. They were our make-believe mean streets, writ small.

I thought about those times this week after reading a Facebook post from Jake Spano, mayor of St. Louis Park (he’s also a relative by marriage). He had reposted a police alert in which someone called police after seeing two young teens in a park with what appeared to be guns. Officers responded to the call about 8:30 p.m. Friday.

“When officers arrived they discovered two young people playing with replica firearms,” the police post said. “In this case a group of people pointed responding officers toward the area where the teens were. When officers arrived one of the teens was running and turned toward officers with one of the guns in his hand and pointed it in the direction of one of the officers. The teen then grabbed a second weapon from his waistband. Thankfully something about the situation did not seem right to the officer, and he was able to take another second to figure out it was a toy.”

When officers ordered the kids to drop the guns, heaven help us, they did.

Breaking: Some kids played in a park with toy guns and did not get killed, news at 10.

This is now the world in which we live.

The first thing that strikes me is that some residents would see two kids, ages 13 and 14, playing with cap guns in a park and call police, because it is no longer outrageous to presume in our society that those guns might be real. Recent history verifies that kids at that age have, and do, possess and use real guns.

As surreal as the incident was, Spano thinks it’s a good time to use it as a public service announcement and to praise police for their caution.

“It was a very good ending to what could have been a very tragic evening,” said Spano. “This could have ended badly, and I’m very happy it didn’t because of a combination of circumstances and good decisions by the officers. Had the kids not complied, had it been darker, had the kids been older, it could have been a different outcome.”

Spano didn’t say it, but I will. It also may have been a much different outcome in a different neighborhood, with kids of color. Experience is pretty clear on that.

Mike Harcey, St. Louis Park’s chief of police, said that one of the kids involved was white, the other Hispanic.

“Our officers did a great job, but I don’t want it to look like we are any different from anywhere else,” Harcey said. “I would like to think they would react the same” in other police departments.

Harcey said his officers actually get a couple of calls like this a year. So far, the kids and officers have been smart — and lucky.

“These kids, their families and our community is incredibly fortunate to have cops who use their judgment, not just weapons, protocol and training, to police our community,” Spano wrote on Facebook.

Harcey said officers explained to the kids how dangerous their behavior was, and their parents “were very concerned, understandably.” Families need to have similar discussions if we are to avoid tragedies, Harcey said.

“I played cops and robbers [as a kid],” said Spano. “I had cap guns with rolls of caps. It was a fairly common story for people our age. I think this tells us we are living in an incredibly militarized world. Guns are a way of life for a lot of people and it bleeds into our children, [and] they learn from that.”

“Part of the problem is that [toy] guns have been made so much more realistic-looking,” said Harcey. “At the same time, firearm manufacturers are making guns that look less realistic. It’s difficult to tell them apart.”

Which means nerve-racking decisions for officers.

In fact, the same night his officers escaped tragedy with the kids, Harcey said they also handled a case with an adult apparently under the influence. During a search for weapons, the man reacted “and the fight was on,” he said. After the suspect was subdued, officers found a loaded handgun in his pocket.

“So, this makes the job very difficult,” said Harcey, who became chief about six months ago. “I feel very fortunate right now.”

As I left for work Tuesday morning, a neighbor mentioned all the conflict going on right now, from white supremacists to crazy presidential Twitter rants to nuclear threats, and encouraged me to “write about something good.”

So, here it is: Two kids played with toy guns in a park this week and didn’t die.

It’s all I’ve got right now.

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin