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July 24, 2011

Comic-Con weapons check: Wolverine, what big claws you have

Posted in: Comic-Con,Fans

Comic-Con security officer Darwin Bullock checks Aaron Rivin's quill of arrows. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times)

Darwin Bullock checks Aaron Rivin's quill of arrows at a Comic-Con security station. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Retired police officer Darwin Bullock was slapping a blue wristband on Wolverine on Saturday afternoon at Comic-Con. Bullock staffs the event’s weapons check, a small station in the lobby of the San Diego Convention Center where costumed characters of all varieties come to have their fake swords, guns, or — in Wolverine’s case — claws inspected for safety.

Though from across the hall he looked like a potentially deadly mutant, Wolverine turned out to be a low-key fellow named Yosef Ghiassy from San Francisco. Bullock deemed his plastic, blunt-edged talons nonthreatening, marking him with the wristband so other security personnel know this superhero has passed inspection.

“Go have fun, sir. Enjoy,” said Bullock, who is working for one of the private security firms hired by the convention. A Comic-Con spokeswoman declined to comment on security protocols, but the gathering’s official policy on weapons is laid out in the “frequently asked questions” section of Comic-Con’s events guide. “No functional weapons are allowed at Comic-Con International,” it says.

Saturday is the busiest day of the annual convention for the weapons check team — because of the Comic-Con masquerade competition that night and the heavy weekend attendance, the team was inspecting about 50 weapons an hour by midafternoon.

“They wait all year to get to dress up as their favorite character,” Bullock said, eyeing the bullets in a steampunk ammo belt. “We’re not trying to ruin their costume, but it’s about risk management.”

Several sharp-edged metal swords determined to be too dangerous for the convention were arrayed behind him on the floor, and his team had already confiscated two machetes, a pair of nunchucks and a small dagger that was concealed in the handle of  a sword.

“Apparently my child catcher is a possible weapon?” said a man dressed as the villain from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” offering up his yarn net for inspection. (It was harmless. Another wristband).

“The crowds at Comic-Con are very large, but it’s not the type of group that brings a real big criminal element,” said Lt. David Nisleit of the San Diego Police Department’s special events division, which he said would spend far more time this weekend managing traffic flow than nefarious wannabe Storm Troopers.

Ruth Laird from San Jose had been sent over to Bullock’s table to get her cannon approved. Laird made the prop, part of a costume from the video game League of Legends, out of PVC pipe. “It’s pink,” she protested with a smile, pointing out her glittery paint job. (Wristband.) Next, Bullock determined that a gun was in fact nonoperational, due to its blocked barrel. “We try to put the inspection sticker on the trigger guard so they can take pictures and pose and it doesn’t ruin their costume,” he said.

No one much seemed to mind the concessions for safety. “I prefer it,” said Kristi Heckman, a steampunker from Wildomar waiting for a friend to get his gun checked. “People who don’t know what they’re doing and carry around weapons, even fake-looking ones, can get somebody killed.”

Beside her, a tiny woman in a white wig was lobbying to keep her sword, part of her anime costume. “It’s not you I’m worried about,” Bullock told her. “It’s the other 100,000 people.” He secured the sword in its sheath with two strong plastic zip ties. “OK, see that, I got it to work. You got your wish.”

– Rebecca Keegan

Twitter: @thatrebecca

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