Thursday, February 28, 2008

Child brings airsoft gun to school, is arrested

NEWBERRY -- Just before the tardy bell rang on Thursday morning, as most children were gossiping or grabbing books from their lockers, a 12-year-old Oak View Middle School student was busy showing off a gun he had brought to school.

The brown and black gun, about as long as a pen, could easily be mistaken for a real gun if not for the bright orange tip.

"It did look like a handgun," said Sgt. Keith Faulk, public information officer for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office.

At least two students who been shown the gun by the boy went to School Resource Deputy Casey Hamilton and told him that a student had a gun.

Hamilton took the suspected student out of his classroom and asked him if he had something in his backpack that he should not have.

The student said "yes" and showed him the gun, a type of gun called an "airsoft" gun that uses compressed air to shoot a pellet.

The boy was arrested on the charge of possession of a firearm on school grounds, a felony, and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center.

The boy was not using the gun in a threatening way but rather was "showing off" the gun, Faulk said.

And even though the gun was not a real gun, the charge is the same as if it were, Faulk said.

"It's still considered a firearm because it shoots a projectile," Faulk said.

Police received conflicting information from the boy and student witnesses, Faulk said.

The boy said he brought the airsoft gun to school because he was going to go to a friend's house after school to play, said Jackie Johnson, pubic information specialist for the Alachua County School District.

But other witnesses told police that the boy showed only the back of the gun, keeping the orange-painted tip hidden in his backpack, and said the gun was real.

Even if the boy had not said the gun was real, he would have been arrested, Faulk said.

That's because of the county's "zero-tolerance" policy toward guns, Faulk said.

The situation was handled correctly, from the students telling their school resourse officer, to the arrest of the boy, Faulk said.

This is not the first time a fake gun has been brought to a school in the district this year, but "one time is too often," Faulk said.

In addition to the felony charge, the boy is suspended for 10 days and the school will send the School Board an automatic recommendation for expulsion -- the standard procedure that occurs when a student brings a gun to school, Johnson said.

But just because expulsion is recommended does not mean that it will necessarily occur, Johnson said. A hearing will be held before the School Board in which the evidence is weighed and the parents and others can say why the boy should not be expelled.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Weapon or toy: Could you tell? - uses for airsoft guns

When deputies arrived, Sgt. Duane Hendrix's children were in the street outside the Seattle police officer's Pierce County home.

Neighbors had spotted them running around, playing with what, to any casual observer, looked to be handguns. The deputies approached with their own weapons holstered, checked the children's guns and found them to be airsoft pistols, an increasingly popular type of replica gun that fires oversize plastic BBs.

Hendrix says his children have a healthy respect for firearms. But the incident -- his children treating toy guns like toys, not guns -- didn't sit well with him.

"After that, we sold them," said Hendrix, one of the Seattle Police Department's training sergeants. "That was enough."

Until the trigger is pulled, the differences between an airsoft M-16 assault rifle or Glock pistol and the real deal are next to impossible to distinguish.

The airsoft guns are, by design, faithful copies of the firearms they're intended to replicate. They're sold with blaze orange tips, but most people who shell out for a replica gun are quick to remove it.

That realism is the appeal for a growing number of weekend warriors who use the fake firearms in elaborate battle simulations. Law enforcement agencies and the military also train with the weapons, working through bloodless shootouts in preparation for the line of duty.

But the guns have also proved doubly dangerous. For criminals bent on robbery or intimidation, they're a readily accessible stand-in for bona-fide firearms. For some youths, airsoft guns have drawn real fire from police officers or frightened bystanders.

"I've held my real guns up to the airsoft versions of them, and, if they didn't have the orange tip on them, I couldn't tell the difference," said Jason Pfingsten, owner of Pacific Rim Airsoft in South Seattle. "These guys need to treat it like a real firearm, not thinking they're tough sticking it in their pants."

Pfingsten and his wife got into the airsoft business two years ago. An advocate for the sport, he spends many of his Sundays tromping through the woods with 30 or 40 other enthusiasts during weekly battles held on private properties in eastern King and Snohomish counties.

Developed in Japan three decades ago, airsoft has a small but growing following in the United States. Pfingsten said he expects it eventually will eclipse paintball, in part because of the added realism the replica guns bring. The 6 mm plastic pellets are also cheaper than paintballs and deliver a little less of a sting.

Like firearms, Pfingsten said, the airsoft guns can and are being misused by some, particularly youths.

Pfingsten said he always checks customers' identifications to make sure they're at least 18, as the law requires. He said he's also refused to sell guns to people who he believes intend to use them unlawfully.

Others aren't so scrupulous. Pfingsten said specialty stores such as his have a long-term interest in limiting the illegal use of airsoft; it's an interest not shared by gas stations and corner-store owners that have taken to stocking replica pistols.

Seattle police are now regularly encountering the guns while on patrol. Officers sometimes discover a phony pistol while frisking a suspect, but the guns also have been used in robberies and muggings around the city, according to police reports.

More often, though, police come across the guns while responding to vandalism calls or reports of someone firing a gun in public.

In September, an officer on patrol in Seattle's Broadview neighborhood ran across a young man pointing a pistol at passing cars while seated on a motor scooter, according to reports. The officer rushed from her car and was moving to confront the man when she heard seven or eight loud pops.

Hearing the gun, she recognized the weapon as an airsoft gun. Facing an armed police officer, the man quickly dropped the weapon and fled on the scooter.

But similar confrontations have ended in bloodshed elsewhere.

In 2006, a SWAT officer shot a 15-year-old Seminole County, Fla., boy who had drawn an airsoft gun resembling a 9 mm pistol. The same year, Chicago police shot and wounded a 14- year-old armed with a BB gun modeled on a Colt .45-caliber pistol, prompting protests from the city's black community.

Even under the best circumstances, officers aren't in a position to judge whether a gun is real, said Officer James Kim, an instructor with the Seattle Police Department's advance-training unit. By the time an officer gets a good look at the gun, it's likely too late.

Airsoft guns play a crucial role in a training scenario aimed at preparing officers for one of the most dangerous circumstances they're likely to encounter -- responding when a suspect reaches into his pockets. The move creates uncertainty for an officer; a suspect could be reaching for a driver's license or a pistol. Facing such a situation in October, a Seattle officer shot and wounded a cell-phone-wielding 13-year-old boy.

Demonstrating the training in a Seattle police gym, Kim played the perpetrator as Officer Robert Mahoney, another defensive tactics trainer and former college instructor, moved to arrest him. Kim's hand darted into his baggy camouflage jacket; Mahoney drew an airsoft pistol modeled on a Glock service weapon and fired.

Before airsoft, officers trained with paint-filled rounds that were dangerous at close range and cost 50 cents each, Kim said. The airsoft weapons let them get closer and allow officers to run through the drills dozens of times to refine their responses.

"It's the only method where you can drill decision-making skills," Mahoney said.

Though he spends his days surrounded with airsoft guns, Pfingsten said he's not convinced he'd be able to tell the difference if a robber drew one on him.

And, he said, he wouldn't risk guessing wrong.

"If somebody came and pulled a gun on me -- orange tip or not -- I'm not going to take a chance," Pfingsten said.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

10 Year Old Boy Holds up fellow classmate with airsoft gun

A 10-year-old boy was sent to juvenile hall after holding a airsoft gun to a classmate's head and robbing him of his Pokemon trading cards.

No one was injured in yesterday's incident.

Redwood City police say the fourth-grader brought an Airsoft gun to Roosevelt Elementary School and held it to a 6-year-old's forehead, demanding that the younger child give up the trading cards.

The fourth-grader has been suspended, school officials are considering whether to expel him