Friday, February 09, 2007

Toy guns (airsoft guns) shouldn't look like real guns

The last thing St. Paul and its police officers need is a supply of realistic-looking toy guns. But last year, 125 of the 690 guns confiscated by police were replica or toy guns. Many of these are new-generation, BB-type guns known as 'airsoft'' guns. Too many of them are dead ringers for Glocks and Smith & Wessons and other real firearms.
If police can't immediately tell the difference, the toy could trigger a tragedy. St. Paul's plan to close a legal loophole and prohibit these replica weapons from being carried in public is an act of wisdom. What is also needed is a heavy dose of common sense. We should support our police by keeping these replicas out of any situation where they could cause trouble, and by making sure children do not carry them out of the home.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Council Member Lee Helgen unveiled an ordinance Monday that would prohibit the possession of these "non-lethal firearms'' in public places. They appeared at a news conference with 21 weapons lined up on a conference room table. Distinguishing the four that were real from the 17 that were toys was very difficult, even in a room with good lighting.
Imagine being the police officer who has to make that decision at night on a street corner or during a traffic stop. "There is no way to distinguish what's real from what's not real,'' said assistant police chief Thomas Smith.
According to Gabe Stitzel, president of the Minnesota Airsoft Association, the realism of the replicas is what attracts those who use the guns in paintball-type gaming. Stitzel supports the intent of the ordinance, saying, "People who are using these irresponsibly, getting airsoft replicas out of their hands is important.''
Coleman and Helgen said the prevalence of these guns has become a serious problem in the city, and they are being used to intimidate people and to commit crimes. While state law already allows prosecution for using a toy gun in the commission of a robbery or other crime, there is no prohibition against carrying this type of replica in public. The ordinance would make it a misdemeanor. Helgen said airsoft guns could still be transported to gaming events in safe containers.
Super-soaker aficionados need not panic. The ordinance would not cover replicas that are immediately recognizable as toys, including those painted in bright colors, those made of transparent materials and those with long blaze-orange extensions at the muzzle end.
We appreciate the announcement by St. Paul-based Gander Mountain Co. to pull real-looking replicas from its shelves and sell only airsoft guns that are "obviously and unmistakably toys.'' Coleman said he will be asking other city retailers to take the same step.
At a time when cities struggle with gun violence, particularly among teen-agers, young people should not be walking about with toys that look like the real thing. Adults have a role to play in making sure that no one in our care does this. It's common sense. And, soon in St. Paul, we hope, it will be the law.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Judge: Airsoft gun is a weapon

Feb 6, 2007 — It came down to the phrase almost everyone has heard at least once in their lifetime.
It could shoot your eye out.
An AirSoft gun might not be able to cause that much physical damage, but Judge John S. Kennedy determined Monday that the plastic BB-shooting airsoft guns, designed to be safer than traditional metal projectile BB and pellet guns, are capable of causing serious bodily injury - at least to the eye.
Kennedy had tabled an offered plea last week by 19-year-old Andrew Vaughn Pierson, who appeared in York County Common Pleas Court on charges of bringing a weapon onto school property, a first-degree misdemeanor, and summary disorderly conduct.
Pierson was 18 when he was charged after witnesses saw him with what was later determined to be an AirSoft gun at Red Land High School on Oct. 6.
After learning in court last week the "weapon" was an AirSoft gun, Kennedy - who said his son also owns a similar gun - questioned whether it qualified as a weapon according to the Pennsylvania Crimes Code.
Weapons listed under the weapon on school property statute include firearms of any type, instruments capable of cutting, nun-chucks and any "implement capable of inflicting serious bodily injury."
Serious bodily injury, according to the law, is anything "which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement or a protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ."
In January 2004, York County Judge John C. Uhler, ruling in a juvenile case, determined paintball guns met the definition of weapon according to the school property charge if used in other than the intended controlled purpose. Uhler specifically addressed the action of shooting at someone who was not wearing eye protection, Kennedy said Monday.
Uhler's ruling was affirmed by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in December 2004 with the caveat that possession of a paintball gun that is used legally is not a crime.
Kennedy, relying on Uhler's ruling, determined Monday that AirSoft guns are "capable" of inflicting an eye injury that would meet the required definition of serious bodily injury.
Pierson chose not to challenge Kennedy's position and pleaded guilty to the charges, his public defender, Jeffrey Rowe, said. Pierson was sentenced to 130 days to 23 months in York County Prison.