Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cedar Rapids tightens law on airsoft toy guns

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."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Accused car-jacker w/ airsoft gun to be arraigned Wednesday

Styles Johnson, arrested for car-jacking Friday night, will appear in Santa Clarita Superior Court at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to be arraigned.

Johnson, 19, of Los Angeles, was arrested after 10 p.m. Friday after he allegedly pointed an airsoft gun at a woman, who was driving her two teen children on Sandy Drive in Canyon Country, and robbed the mother of her car.

After a short pursuit on Highway 14, California High Patrol officers captured Johnson after he crashed into a median and tried to flee on foot.

The airsoft gun was later recovered and will be arraigned as if the airsoft gun was a real fire arm.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mother Says D.C. Police Shot, Injured Boy Holding Toy Airsoft Gun

WASHINGTON - An outraged D.C. mother says her son was shot by D.C. police officers because, in part, he was playing with a airsoft toy gun.

The incident occurred on the 1400 block of Shepherd Street Northwest at around 6 p.m. May 4.

The 12-year-old boy and his dog Boss walk the streets of their neighborhood, but not without fear according to the child's mother, LaShawn English.

"I still can't believe that this happened to my son," she said.

English says the family's dog got out without his leash so her son chased after him down an alley, carrying a plastic Airsoft toy gun that shoots small pellets.

The toys are plastic, but from some online photos, they look quite real. The family suspects someone called the police when they saw what appeared to be someone armed in the alley.

Neighbor Lorena Marshall says she saw the child comply when the officer with his own gun drawn, ordered the child to drop the gun.

"I can hear him say, 'Get down, get down, get down,'" said Marshall. "And then when he cuffed him and I came over here I said, Can't you see it? It's a toy.'"

Police say the dog then charged the officer who shot and wounded the animal. Marshall, however, disputes that account. "No, the dog did not charge. The dog came over in a crouching position," she said.

English says a bullet fragment ricocheted and struck her son in the head. "I was floored. I was stunned. I was shocked," she said.

English says her son was treated and released from the hospital, but police say no injuries were reported to the officer.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Army Finds Recruits By Hosting Counterinsurgency Airsoft Games

War reenactors, especially those who don the Blue and the Gray on weekends for play-action Civil War battles, are ubiquitous in the summertime, especially in the eastern United States.

But an enterprising college journalism student recently discovered young men in New Jersey, including veterans of Iraq and Somalia, practicing for an advanced counterinsurgency airsoft war game on a U.S. Army base in Upstate New York - with the blessing of military officials who've found the contests a good recruiting tool.

The so-called "Airsoft" games -- "like paintball, but more extreme," according to Laura Nahmias, a graduate student at Columbia University's School of Journalism -- reenact battles like the U.S. Marines' bloody struggle with Sunni insurgents in Iraq's Ramadi and the fight for Mogadishu immortalized in "Blackhawk Down."

"Players use guns that are exact replicas of real ones but only shoot airoft pellets," Nahmias reported in "War Games," a story first streamed on the school's Uptown Radio web site on April 17.

The games include "sound effects of munitions and sirens," Nahmias reported, and even, where called for, "screaming civilians."

Some veterans think of the games as memorializing their fallen comrades.

Like retired Army Col. Danny McKnight, a battalion commander in Mogadishu, who told Nahmias that reenacting the 1993 battle of Mogadishu was his way of "making sure the battle and those men are not forgotten."

Army officials, McKnight also told Nahmias, allow the airsoft games to take place at their Mounted Urban Combat Training facilities at Fort Drum, N.Y., Fort Knox, Ky. and elsewhere, because it attracts young recruits.

"I think recruiting tool is the right word to use, and I'll put it in terms of this," McKnight says on the radio show.

"The support is there," he added, with the result that "there's probably been a dozen that I know of that have chosen to enlist in the military" after the airsoft games.

"There is ample evidence of military encouragement of the military training in the Airsoft games. The veterans talk to me about it openly and there are photographs of the reenactments taking place at Fort Drum and Fort Knox, Kentucky," Nahmias reported.

"But when I showed the photos to media affairs officers at those bases, they were incredulous. They said they were they shocked to hear that civilians were using the Urban training facilities during a time of war, and that National Guard recruiters were active at these events."

Nahmias added, "After confirming the training, New York military ... spokesman Eric Durr said his office plans to investigate the involvement of National Guard in these events."

One of this year's big events, at Fort Drum, N.Y., on Memorial Day weekend, is a fake counterinsurgency airsoft battle called "Pine Plains."

Why would these young men, especially veterans, want to recreate such bloody hell, even with just paint and pellets?

One reenactor, Brian Douglass, told Nahmias the astonishing story of Levi DiFranza.

"He played Airsoft before he joined the Army in 2005, He was shot in the head in one of the famous battles in Iraq, Ramadi in 2005. He survived. When he returned home, he quickly joined the Green Mountain Rangers to play Airsoft games again."

Getting shot in reality obviously didn't scare either man off.

"But playing with these guys -- the adrenaline you get?" Douglass said. "It's addicting."