Friday, March 10, 2006

Gun replicas draw criticism from police

A neighbor called police, saying she saw a group of young men playing with guns in the front yard of their home.

Round Rock police officers, assuming the men were armed and dangerous, showed up with their guns drawn, ordering the men to come out one by one.

As the men complied, officers — their weapons still drawn — learned that the guns were replicas.

At least 10 times this year, Round Rock police officers have been poised to shoot when confronted by suspects whose toy guns appear all too realistic, said Eric Poteet, a spokesman for the department.

It's a growing problem, Poteet said, with the increased popularity of airsoft guns: replicas that shoot plastic or rubber BBs at a low velocity.

Manufacturers include red or orange tips on the airsoft guns' barrels, but many people choose to paint over the marking to make the gun more realistic, he said.

That makes it difficult for officers, who have to make split-second decisions, to determine whether the gun a suspect holds is really a threat, Poteet said.

"Obviously, there's a relief when it's not a real gun, but there's also the frustration that you came real close to hurting somebody who had a toy," said Ben Hall, a Round Rock patrol sergeant, who has responded to calls only to find that the reported gun is not real.

In one instance, an officer who responded to a noise complaint nearly pulled the trigger after being confronted by a man with a replica Beretta handgun, Hall said. The officer was beginning to apply pressure to the trigger when the man dropped the toy weapon. No one was hurt.

"That officer believed it was a real gun because, from a distance of a foot or two, it looked like a real gun," Hall said.

Airsoft guns, originally developed in Japan because people couldn't possess real firearms there, can be made of plastic or metal and can cost as little as $20 or more than $800, said Sam Paxman of Advanced Armament the Cutting Edge in Round Rock.

They come in dozens of models, all based on real guns, and fire BBs made of rubber or plastic that can dent soda cans or punch holes through paper.

Paxman said he sells two or three airsoft guns a week. Replicas of the M-16, a rifle used in the military, are particularly popular, he said.

But the airsoft guns, which shoot with less force than paintball or pellet guns, don't pose a threat to people wearing protective gear such as eye goggles, Paxman said.

"There's a lot of people who play with them, who collect them and shoot them," Paxman said. "There's a lot of people who go out and have battles with them."

Though some airsoft guns do look very realistic, someone familiar with firearms should be able to tell it's a replica, he said.

The problem arises, police say, when people carry the guns in public, leaving them on the seat of a car or walk into a convenience store with the airsoft gun tucked into their pants.

Bystanders don't know that the replicas won't cause harm. And police have to assume that any firearm is real and make a quick decision, Poteet said.

"No officer wants to shoot somebody," Poteet said. "And to shoot somebody and to find out later that it was a toy that they had, that officer is going to have live with that forever."

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  1. Anonymous12:07 AM

    Geez, people. Why is it so hard to follow some simple rules?

  2. Anonymous6:36 PM

    People are retarded. Don't play with them outside. Duh.

  3. Anonymous12:48 PM

    u think we can use them inside. duh.