MADISON, Wis. -- Madison police said that they're seeing more incidents involving realistic-looking guns -- Airsoft or pellet guns -- in recent weeks and are taking steps to avert a potentially dangerous situation.
Officers said that some crooks are brazen enough to paint the black end of a real weapon orange to make it appear like a toy. Now, local police are launching their own assault on toy guns that look like the real thing.
"It's a recipe for disaster," said Officer Mike Hanson of the Madison Police Department.
The problem for law enforcement is that they often can't tell toy guns from the real deal. This puts police and those who bring the toy guns into the streets in a dangerous position -- even if the gun is just for play, WISC-TV reported.
"We have to assume every single gun is real until we prove otherwise," Hanson said. "We're very fortunate that nothing fatal has occurred due to a fake airsoft gun yet. But the way we're seeing them out there -- flashing them, using them, not obeying police commands to drop it -- it's frightening."
Middleton police said they're seeing the same thing.
"Works just like the real thing," said Middleton Police Sgt. Don Mueller, as he demonstrated the bolt-action on a pellet airsoft gun that one of his officers recently confiscated. The gun appears to be virtually identical to a sniper rifle.
"If somebody turned to me with this weapon, I'd shoot them without any compunction," Mueller said. "These are made to look as much as possible like a real weapon."
Officers said that the airsoft guns are often just for play, but sometimes they are a status symbol for children and young adults, both in and out of street gangs. They use the airsoft guns to intimidate peers or show the block who is boss, they said.
As a result, Madison police are starting to tell children as early as first grade that the fake airsoft guns are dangerous and put both the holder and officers in dangerous positions.
Several major retailers on Tuesday said that they don't sell toy guns. Dick's Sporting Goods, one carrier of Airsoft pellet guns, wouldn't comment, citing a policy not to talk about any gun sales. A BB gun at one local big-box retailer cost less than $30. The only requirement is that the purchaser is over the age of 16, and the clerk did ask to see identification.
Even colored guns are now a concern for police because most real weapons can now be purchased in almost any color -- including pink. That eliminates any possibility to distinguish between a fake and an actual firearm, WISC-TV reported.
"What we're trying to do is keep the neighborhood safe, so it's very frustrating this is going on throughout the city of Madison," Hanson said.