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Something that comics insiders have been worrying about for a long time finally happened yesrterday on the opening day of Phoenix Comicon: An armed man was arrested carrying three handguns, a shotgun, ammo and other handheld weapons including a knife and wearing body armor. Based on his social media postings, his plan was to kill police officers who were at the con, essentially a domestic terrorism event in the planning.

This is pretty terrifying, and obviously we could be reading a horrifying story about dead people and a gunman who took his own life by now.

The man has been identified as 31-year-old Mathew Sterling, who had been posting photos of cops at the con on his FB page. A friend spotted it and alerted police. He’s been charged with attempted murder, three counts of aggravated assault, wearing body armor during the commission of a felony, resisting arrest, and carrying a weapon in a prohibited place.

After Sterling was apprehended, police called for all prop weapons to be banned, a move that Phoenix Comicon  organizers backed up in a statement:

Convention Director Matthew Solberg here with an important and urgent message:

In light of recent events, Phoenix Comicon, in cooperation with the Phoenix Convention Center and the Phoenix Police Department, will be implementing enhanced screening to ensure the safety of all our attendees. This screening includes three dedicated access points, no longer allowing costume props within our convention or the Convention Center, and other methods as determined in conjunction with the Convention Center and Phoenix Police Department. We anticipate some delays as you are entering the building and we encourage you to carry as little as possible to make the process easier.

These new policies will take effect starting tomorrow, Friday, May 26th.

The three access points for entrance into the Convention Center with those who have a valid badge:

West Building entrance at 2nd Street, between Washington and Monroe.
Third Street at Washington
Third Street at Monroe

For those who need to collect their badge from registration you will ONLY be able to use the access point at Third Street at Monroe.
Con on Third will no longer be open to the public, and will require a valid badge to enter.

Costume props will no longer be allowed on-site. All costume props should be left at home, in your car, or in your hotel room. This includes costume props for staff, crew, costuming groups, panelists, and participants in the masquerade ball. Any panels or activities impacted by this change will be updated on the website soon.

All costume props are no longer allowed, including foam and cardboard props, shields and sabers. Purchased props will be wrapped by the vendors and must remain so while they are on-site. We encourage you to take your purchases to your car or hotel as soon as possible after purchase.
We understand these are last minute changes as a result of recent events.

We appreciate your patience as we continue to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all our patrons and we look forward to a great event.

Matthew Solberg
Convention Director

The restricted entrances to the show are expected to cause long lines for an event that  was already drawing 100,000 people. And today these signs have been posted.

 

 

 

Other comicons are picking up on the security measure, including Alamo City Comic Con, which went even further with a ban on big backpacks and duffle bags:

 

 

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While all this seems common sense, maybe there won’t be too much crowding at PCC today, as on social media many people are COMPLAINING about the prop weapons ban, saying it’s unnecessary and showing off their prop weapons at the con is the only reason they go. Check out the comments on the Phoenix Comicon statement above if you don’t believe me.

I mean its sad that you can’t walk around with your fake weapons and all…but not as sad as dead police officers, I think.

I’ve been fearing a comic-con “incident” for a while now, and there have been several that were thwarted before anything happened. This was a close call and if not for a tip from a good citizen we could be reading the most horrifying headlines of our lives today.  Weapons check can be a pretty perfunctory thing at a lot of comic cons, but I’m guessing that after this, security will be ramped up. Times are changing.

And for people who think their right to carry a fake weapon is more important than your police officer’s right to keep living…you might want to check your priorities along with your weapons.

 

17 COMMENTS

  1. “I mean its sad that you can’t walk around with your fake weapons and all…but not as sad as dead police officers, I think.”

    That’s a false dichotomy, though. It’s perfectly reasonable to ban realistic guns and sharp objects (and would be even if this horrible near-miss had never happened), but nobody’s going to kill a police officer with a lightsabre or a plastic wand.

    Of course, this is short notice and they didn’t have time to come up with specific guidelines and train staff and volunteers. (Are there still volunteers? What happened with that story?) Perhaps next year there will be more sensible, nuanced rules for what props are allowed.

  2. Thad, true, but obviously the existing rules weren’t being enforced.

    I think the outcry would be a little different if the perp had been from the MIddle East or obviously African-American though, don’t you?

  3. Simple solution: The show sets up a photo area outside the convention area, in a nearby plaza or park, where everyone can show off their props.

    As for where do you draw the line with props?
    “No props” seems the best and easiest, so staff and attendees don’t have to worry about what’s allowable.

    What if someone wants to commit “death by cop” by acting crazy and carrying a prop gun or knife?

  4. i fully support this. Considering that you can hide deadly things easily inside of big fake foam props, or make real guns look like fake ones, this is a necessary step that more cons should follow. Expressing your Fandom is not more important that enabling a massacre to happen. Pull heads out of butts with the outrage on this.

    Our world is a dangerous place full of crazy people.

  5. For those wondering about Javits, here’s the policy for BookCon next week:
    What does BookCon think of Weapons?
    Please read this entire policy before attending BookCon. Failure to follow this policy may result in your removal from the convention without refund.

    At the discretion of Security onsite, the following may be allowed as cosplay props:

    Plastic and Metal Shields
    Lightweight Plastic/PVC Props/Light Sabers
    Toy guns as long as they do not look like real ones, cannot function or shoot projectiles and have an orange tip on the barrel. The barrel of all prop firearms must be covered with brightly-colored caps. Prop bows will be allowed providing all arrows have soft tips made of foam or cardboard.
    If any of the above items are deemed unsafe by BookCon Security, they will not be allowed inside the building. They will only be allowed as long as they are deemed safe and will not cause harm onsite.

    If you’re bringing, buying or selling something that could maim, damage or cause bodily harm, we’re going to take issue. The following items are forbidden at BookCon:

    Functional firearms (including air soft guns, BB guns, cap guns, paintball guns and pellet guns)
    Realistic replica firearms (including reproduction, fake or toy guns that can be confused for functional firearms)
    Functional projectile weapons (including blow guns, crossbows, long bows, silly string, slingshots, water balloons and water guns)
    Sharpened metal-bladed weapons (including axes, daggers, hatches, knives, kunai, shuriken, swords, sword canes and switch blades)
    Explosives (including firecrackers and fireworks)
    Chemical weapons (including mace and pepper spray)
    Blunt weapons (including brass knuckles, clubs and nunchaku)
    Hard prop weapons (including props made of metal, fiberglass, PVC, wood and glass)
    Instruments that cause excessive noise levels like vuvuzelas, grenade whistles and grenade horns
    Whips
    Aerosol mustard
    Drones
    Selfie sticks

  6. @Torsten: “What if someone wants to commit “death by cop” by acting crazy and carrying a prop gun or knife?”

    Then they can do it in the lobby right before the bag check. Or out front. Or across the street. Or in front of the baseball stadium. Or at the train station. Or really anywhere within a mile radius of the convention center that has a police presence. Indeed, if someone were interested in committing suicide by cop by coming at them with a fake weapon, it seems like the weekend of Comicon would be the least effective time to do it, as it’s the one weekend a year where the police are likeliest to see a fake weapon and assume it’s fake.

    Anyway, that’s kind of an odd hypothetical, and one that bears no resemblance to the actual threat that these rules are designed to protect against. Do you have any examples illustrating why we should be concerned about people potentially attempting suicide by cop while acting crazy and carrying a prop weapon?

  7. Looks like the line situation is clearing up, which is nice because its 100 degrees here in PHX. It’s just a shame that people who’ve spent months working on their costumes have to either 1) Ditch most of them or 2) Not go at all. It went from 0 security to super amped up security. Rather be safe than sorry, but at least provide all the right resources, ya know?

  8. Thad,

    No volunteers, all paid staff (mostly “seasonal”.) From what I’ve been hearing, they are understaffed.

    This all happened well before the exhibitor hall was opened to the public. Even though Thursday is now a full day of programming, the exhibit hall is still being treated like its preview night, not opening until 4 pm.

    The con is very lucky that he didn’t get a chance to do any of what he was planning.

    Disclaimer – I am not part of Phoenix Comicon anymore and haven’t attended since I was dismissed as Books and Authors Manager for a “difference in vision”.

  9. Manchester was the reason Alamo City Comic Con gave as to their no backpack or large tote policy….which does seem like an over-reaction to me. I’m not sure if the Phoenix incident had even occurred at the time Alamo made its announcement.

  10. This incident, where a mentally ill person tried to enter a con with weapons, fulfils the “perfect storm” scenario: (a con has lots of mingling and chaos, some cons are understaffed, there is a large,diverse population where people don’t already know each other, lots of fake play weapons and masks). Now that someone has revealed potential security weaknesses, future cons must tighten up.
    Yes, that’s obvious, but in this case, “fandom” got lucky, didn’t it? And now, with the resulting publicity, there will be others who will try this. Time to address it.

  11. It’s really sad that you think that anyone at any comic-com would want a police officer hurt in any way. And real cosplayers go happily to the prop-check table, stand in long lines, and take anything that is not approved to their car to modify it or put it away. The reason cosplayers are complaining is that this is our community, we respect each other we help each other. We do good in the community. And now we are being told how we can cosplay in our cosplay community. Beef up security, put the prop-check outside each door. We do not have weapons. We are not there to hurt anyone. It is not fair to punish all because of one person who wanted to make trouble.

  12. If you ban any kind of bag that isn’t unreasonable in size or design, I won’t be going to your event. Almost went to alamo city, but glad I didn’t. You do realize that attendees bring tons of books to get signed and the primary way to transport books is in fact a book bag. Oversize totes are a staple of conventions and are often given or sold by vendors. I don’t mind being wanded on entry, but banning a style of bag is ridiculous. If i were terrorist i would then just use a diaper bag and claim my anthrax is baby formula and that the baby is with my wife who is already inside. I could roll up in a wheelchair with my rifle and handguns disassembled and hidden within and assemble it in a bathroom.

    There’s no reason to blindly accept unreasonable security measures. Just don’t go and when vendors and guests make no money they will give in or shut down. This crap didn’t work for movie theaters and it won’t work for comic book conventions. Also, I haven’t flown on a plane for 5 years because of the TSA not because of terrorists. I voted with my wallet.

    Banning backpacks is arbitrary and looks like lip service. Any real effort would cost money so why not just offload the burden onto the attendees. Don’t fall for it, people. Demand a refund and don’t go back. There are too many conventions anyway.

  13. This is going to end up backfiring the other way where someone who would normally legally, safely conceal carry will end up being attacked at a convention.

    Case in point is Orlando MegaCon. The motels around the Orange County Convention Center aren’t exactly the safest in the world, and sooner or later we’ll read about some cosplayer getting raped or mugged and they would normally have a 9mm “pocket pistol” or a pocket knife or pepper spray on them to defend themselves, but thanks to the “no weapons” policy, they ended up a victim.

  14. Situations such as the Phoenix incident can be prevented with solid policies such as the ones established by ReedPop for their shows. It really doesnt matter whether you are talking about a comic con event or any other kind of fan show or industry trade show, public safety is an utmost concern. The move by the PCC to immediately prevent all props and bags was a natural and smart move as it relayed the message to all that the con is a safe space.
    A very large majority of the con community just wants to celebrate all that con is and is quite likely to follow the rules. The rest can just stay home.

  15. on the other hand these cons are money making enterprises, not just “celebrations”. I go to cons with sketch books to be worked on and trades to be signed, and also buy a good amount of toys, artwork, trades, etc. where am I supposed to put all this stuff, if not in a backpack/duffel that I bring along, on top of my head? or walk around with ten supermarket style grocery bags filled with stuff. yeah, right. look, I’m all for security, I’ve been to shows that have used those metal detector wands, and have also been asked to open my backpack/duffel for inspection of it’s contents before entering the show. no problem, happy to do it. there’s gonna have to be a happy middle ground when it comes to security, ’cause if the burden is completely on the con goers to walk in empty handed with no way to handle all the stuff they purchase, well I guess the con goers can just easily save their money as easily as the vendors can lose money. oh, wait, vendors don’t want to lose money, but they’ll be the ones to pay the price, along with artist that sell prints, etc.

  16. As a proud cosplayer, I feel my rights are being trampled on! Suddenly I’m not allowed to have an accurate, beautiful costume just because ONE cosplayer brought in real guns and tried to kill the Green Ranger? This is stereotyping. We wouldn’t ban all black people from comic conventions if one black person got arrested, so why stereotype my coommunity?

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