Toy airsoft guns are being used in Cedar Rapids crimes, from criminal mischief to assault, and the city has changed an ordinance to control their use.
At the urging of police, the City Council has made it a misdemeanor offense to carry a loaded BB airsoft gun, air gun or pellet gun in the city limits. Juveniles cannot have the airsoft guns at all, loaded or unloaded, unless they are under adult supervision.
Police Capt. Bernie Walther said people have used the toy airsoft guns in hopes the victims will think they are real. It is easy for anyone, including a police officer, to mistake them for the real thing, he said.
"It makes no sense for anybody to be carrying one of things out in public, unless you're going to the range to do some shooting," Walther said. "That's all there is to it."
Three juveniles allegedly brandished an Airsoft gun, which uses compressed air to shoot plastic or metal pellets, when they robbed a 20-year-old man March 29. The robbery resulted in an assault causing very serious injuries to Officer Tim Davis, who responded to the call.
But most problems are with criminal mischief. Walther said damage to car windows during the past six years added up to about $1.4 million, at $200 per window. During one weekend in late February, BB guns were used to shoot out more than 150 car windows.
The ordinance was updated less than two weeks later, on March 11. There were fewer criminal mischief complaints during spring break this year than in the past, said Cedar Rapids police Chief Greg Graham.
The penalty for carrying any loaded weapon in the city, including the toy guns, airsoft included, is up to a $625 fine and as many as 30 days in jail. Six people have been cited since the ordinance was toughened.
Before the change, it was only illegal to discharge a BB gun, airsoft gun, or similar toy guns in the city — requiring officers to catch people in the act.
Uncle Stan's Military Surplus in Marion sells Airsoft guns. Employee Ben Kramer said the guns are very popular with kids "because they look very real."