BOSTON -- Attorney General Tom Reilly today demanded that six Internet retailers and one Massachusetts store owner stop selling "look-alike" air rifles and BB guns to minors. AG Reilly issued the demand letters, which also inform the companies of his intent to sue, following an undercover investigation where a 16-year-old boy successfully purchased several of these weapons in violation of Massachusetts law.
"These 'look-alike' weapons are dangerous, and should not be in the hands of children," AG Reilly said. "Local police departments use air rifles and BB guns in training exercises because they are so much like the real thing. But now police are finding these guns are used to commit crimes, and kids are bringing them to school. It's not safe. Retailers have got to stop selling these weapons to children."
The guns, commonly referred to as "airsoft" guns, are high powered, often semi- or fully automatic, and fire plastic or metal pellets that can inflict serious injuries. They pose an additional safety risk because they are designed to look and feel exactly like real guns. Many air rifles and BB guns bear brand names, model numbers and logos. Massachusetts law prohibits the sale of an air rifle or BB gun to a minor under 18 years old.
AG Reilly conducted an undercover sting operation over the past year in response to growing concerns about the misuse of air rifles and BB guns. AG Reilly enlisted the help of a 16-year-old boy who was easily able to purchase these guns online from two large national sporting goods retailers -- Dick's Sporting Goods, Inc. and The Sports Authority, Inc. -- using gift cards purchased from local stores. Using money orders, the teen also purchased guns from three other out-of-state online retailers: Airsoft Atlanta, Inc., of Norcross, Georgia, Jungle Toy, LLC of Chino, California, and Tactical Innovations, LLC of Milford, Ohio. The boy also purchased a gun in person at the Xtreme Action Paintball store in Norwood.
AG Reilly has also notified GSI Commerce, Inc., of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, which operates the website for Dick's and Sports Authority, that they are in violation of Massachusetts Law for selling air rifles and stun guns to minors.
AG Reilly has informed the retailers that he intends to sue them to permanently stop the sale of air rifles and BB guns to minors in Massachusetts and to pay penalties.
Incidents involving these "look alike" guns are on the rise both locally and nationally. The Center for Disease Control reports that the guns caused an estimated 20,000 injuries in 2003. Local police are also seeing a serious problem in schools and neighborhoods, where these guns are used to commit crimes and may be confused by law enforcement as a real weapon.
"We have seen a significant rise in crimes committed using air guns during the past six months," Marlborough Police Chief Mark Leonard said. "They are easily accessible to people intent on committing those crimes, and are getting into the hands of minors with increased frequency. 'Replica' air guns bear a very strong resemblance to their 'real' counterparts, and there is no way to distinguish a real firearm from an air gun without close inspection."
Chief Leonard added, "This presents some very real concerns for law enforcement, and is what makes them an attractive criminal tool."
Lowell Police Superintendent Ed Davis estimates that his police officers confiscate two or three BB guns each week. On Monday, a Lowell middle school student used a "look alike" gun to shoot another student in the head. The victim suffered only a minor injury.
"I urge companies that sell these weapons to adhere to strict guidelines on their online sales and in stores," Superintendent Davis said. "Parents also need to pay close attention to the danger posed by these weapons, and ensure that they are not being placed in the hands of their children."
These cases are part of an overall initiative by AG Reilly to target the sale of illegal or age-prohibited products in Massachusetts such as firearms, ammunition, alcohol, cigarettes, and fireworks. AG Reilly's Office has also become a respected resource on the ever-evolving world of the Internet, particularly as it relates to child safety. Since taking office, AG Reilly has devoted unprecedented resources to protecting Internet users and has dedicated staff specifically to education and training efforts.
Anyone with questions about whether certain weapons are restricted by Massachusetts law should check with their local police department.
Assistant Attorneys General David Monahan and Scott Schafer of AG Reilly's Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division are handling this case, with assistance from Investigators Dante Annicelli and Jake Harney of the Investigations Division.