Is Changing the Prop Rules Mid-Con Okay?

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Denver Comic Con was a 3-day event that took place from 30 June – 2 July 2016: a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Saturday morning of the event, a major change was enacted in the prop weapons policy.

In order to better provide a safe environment for all those attending DCC, it is necessary to amend the prop policy related to replica guns. Starting Saturday morning we ask that you leave any prop that resembles a gun (earthy or otherwise) at home. These items will be restricted at all entry points and will not be allowed anywhere within the Con. While we do respect the hard work and effort that goes into a costume, for the safety of all we appreciate everyone’s cooperation.

This announcement came out between 8:30am and 9:00am; the doors opened to the public at 10am. There were people in line to enter, prop guns in hand, perhaps even having had them the day prior. Read the full post, complete with comments, from the Denver Comic Con Facebook site here.

The news was met with opinions from both sides of the issue.

Personally, I can see both sides too. On the one hand, there is a growing concern in America about terrorism, active shooters, and other unimaginable horrible things that can happen. Now drop that into the Colorado Convention Center filled with over 100,000 people, many of whom are members of families who were there together with their loved ones.

On the other hand, the previous rules had specified that obviously “fake” firearms would be permitted, subject to inspection and tagging by DCC staff performing inspections. Cosplayers who intended to include these “fake” firearms spent some time (and money, I’m sure) working out a realistic, but not-realistic, firearm prop.

This was a tricky rule from the get-go. For example, a Nerf blaster looks fake, for sure, but it was prohibited because it could be loaded with a projectile—but projectile-firing-apparatuses were also prohibited at DCC. So what many cosplayers were left with was a plan to bring no-kidding toy guns, complete with the neon orange tips.

What happened?

On Friday of the event, many of these were permitted into Colorado Convention Center. Many very-realistic-looking weapons were allowed into the convention center also. At the same time, many of the fake weapons were not allowed.

The judgement of what constitutes a “realistic”-looking  versus “fake”-looking firearm was left to the individuals performing the inspections. Inconsistencies were rampant on that first day of the con, and the DCC staff members and volunteers received an overwhelming amount of feedback to that extent. I consider this a failure in training of the personnel who were hired to help with event staffing and security at Denver Comic Con, a local company called Argus Event Staffing. In searching for information about this company, the first hit on Google returns this scathing review on Facebook. Perhaps it would have been helpful to run some scenario training with these personnel…have them practice what prop firearms would have been permitted, and which ones would have been prohibited.

In an effort to alleviate those inconsistencies, the staff made the above ruling just before the doors opened on Saturday. DCC made clear the change was due to the inconsistencies on the previous day, and rather than allow all prop firearms, they chose to err on the side of safety. Other cons have had to make similar, more restrictive, rules about weapons, but where DCC might have done better was with changing the rules mid-event, after guests have descended on Denver from around the world—having planned with the rules that were set in place beforehand.

Discussions on social media and in-person discussions with con guests gave me a sense of the divide in attitudes about this. I met families who never agreed with having any weapons at DCC, and I met guests who felt DCC was stifling creativity with this restrictiveness. I talked to people who felt that someone in the convention center with a makeshift “Lucille” bat [The Walking Dead] or Harley Quinn’s mallet was carrying something more dangerous than a prop firearm. A few of us discussed the difficulty police might have if there was a need to respond to a real-world incident in the convention center.

A Big Decision

I have been thinking long and hard about what I would do if I were the ultimate decision-maker for this issue. Would I have (a) kept the status quo? (b) prohibited all firearm-type props? or (c) allowed all firearm-type props (subject to inspection and tagging)? I don’t envy those who had to make this tough decision. No matter what, there is likely to be a population of attendees who would be upset, right? After all, this decision impacted thousands of guests.

What are your thoughts on this change in the rules? If you were in charge, would you have picked (a), (b), or (c)? What do you think about prop weapons policies at our favorite comic conventions?

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