Monday, January 31, 2011

Jeffco boy facing felony charges in airsoft gun mishap

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- A 13-year-old Jefferson County boy says he knows what he did was wrong, but says it was an accident and he never intended to hurt anyone when he shot his toy airsoft gun at a friend, who was hit in the eye.

His parents say their son deserves to be punished, but believe juvenile felony assault charges for an airsoft gun go too far.

But the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office says they take many factors into account, and when they decide to file charges it’s because they believe it’s in the best interest of the child.

The 13 year old, Jacob Alspaugh, tells Fox 31 News he and a friend were just messing around with a toy airsoft gun, shooting at each other and shooting at targets like cereal boxes without eye protection.

When the other boy said something that made Jacob mad, he did what he calls a “quick draw,” and fired the plastic bead. To his horror, he hit his friend in the eye.

“When it happened I felt sick and I kept saying I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” said the teen.

The other boy was treated and is fine with no permanent injuries. Police reports say his family did not want to press charges, and Jacob says he and his friend have made up.

“We just talked a while about me giving him an Xbox 360 and I gave him that one night just as a ‘sorry’ present," Alspaugh said. "He forgave me. He knows I’m sorry, so we’re back to being friends.”

But according to police reports, the treating doctor says the plastic bead could have caused serious bodily injury, and the Jefferson County DA’s office is charging the 13-year-old as a juvenile with felony second degree assault charges.

“The judge mentioned if convicted, he has a mandatory five days in detention and he can be removed from my home for up to a year,” said Jacob's father, Craig Alspaugh.

Jefferson County DA Scott Storey says they can’t comment on any specific juvenile case, but he says they take many things into account. They look at school records, and juvenile experts evaluate the child and bring up any psychological or mental health issues. They also consider what might be going on in the home and he says they do what they believe to be in the best interest of the child.

“We really want to give them the resources to make them successful, in the future, at school, at home, with their friends and everything else,” said Storey.

FOX31 News tested an identical airsoft toy gun and fired it at a piece of notebook paper. Sometimes the plastic beads went through the paper and sometimes they bounced off. Firearms expert and former police officer Rich Wyatt says, “It’s a toy, it’s an airsoft gun that can be purchased in any store. You don’t have to be any age to purchase it.” Wyatt says there was a time when parents, not prosecutors handled this kind of accident.

The father says at a court hearing earlier in the week the DA’s office offered his son a plea bargain, reducing the charge to misdemeanor assault. There would be no detention time, but Jacob would go into a diversion program that would provide counseling on a variety of issues. If he stayed out of trouble, his record would be expunged, and his records would remain sealed, as are all juvenile records.

Alspaugh says they are considering the plea bargain, but he worries any kind of plea would result in Jacob being expelled from school, kicked off the football team and further stigmatize him at school.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Officer from shooting ID'd; man had a fake gun

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego police officer who shot and wounded a man this week after he pointed a fake handgun at the officer was identified Thursday as Sgt. Robert Wills, a 21-year department veteran who was involved in a fatal shooting in 1999 of a former NFL player.

Wills shot Robert McBride Jr. about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday in the parking lot outside the CVS Pharmacy on Mira Mesa Boulevard near Camino Ruiz, police Lt. Kevin Rooney said. Wills fired one time after McBride, 22, of Mira Mesa pulled a replica weapon from his waistband and aimed it at the officer, Rooney said.

McBride, who was on probation, has been convicted of several crimes since 2006, including grand theft and burglary.

Wills thought McBride and a friend were getting ready to burglarize cars in the parking lot near the CVS, police said. The friend went inside the store, and Wills stopped McBride and asked for his identification. McBride ran away and Wills chased after him.

When McBride was about 175 feet away from Wills he stopped, turned and started to run toward the sergeant before pulling out the airsoft gun and raising it, Rooney said. That’s when Wills shot him.

Investigators said McBride’s gun turned out to be a plastic Airsoft replica .45-style pistol that shoots 6mm airsoft plastic BBs.

McBride underwent surgery and is expected to survive. When he is released from the hospital, he will be booked into jail on suspicion of exhibiting an imitation firearm in a threatening manner and for violating probation, Rooney said.

Will is on routine administrative duty while the shooting is investigated.

In July 1999, he was one of two officers involved in the fatal shooting of Demetrius DuBose, 28, an all-American Notre Dame football star who spent four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

DuBose was shot 12 times after attacking Wills and officer Timothy Keating with their own martial arts weapons in Mission Beach. The shooting sparked charges of racial bias because both officers are white and DuBose was black.

The FBI and the District Attorney’s Office cleared both officers, saying the use of deadly force was justified because they believed their lives were in danger. A federal jury also unanimously ruled in favor of Wills and Keating in a wrongful death lawsuit that DuBose’s mother filed.

Three months before the DuBose shooting, Wills was involved in an altercation in Pacific Beach with bicyclist Thomas McHale, a San Diego firefighter, that led to a lawsuit.

Wills used a chokehold on McHale and wrestled him to the ground during a confrontation over a traffic ticket.

McHale was arrested on charges of resisting arrest and assaulting an officer, but they were dismissed. He sued the city over the arrest and a jury awarded him more than $400,000. The City Attorney’s Office had argued that McHale picked the fight and was being profane and uncooperative.

4th-grader suspended for airsoft gun

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - A Grand Rapids fourth-grader is being suspended for more than 10 days after bringing an airsoft "lookalike" gun to school Thursday, a Grand Rapids Public Schools spokesman said airsoft guns can often look like real guns but fire plastic pellets and are used for play, simulation, and recreation.

The principal at Palmer Elementary did not follow exact procedure in the case and will be reminded of that procedure, spokesman John Helmholdt said. The airsoft gun, which the child's parent said was an airsoft replica, was shown to at least one other student in school Thursday.

Another parent made the principal aware of the incident after school Thursday and Helmholdt said the principal notified Grand Rapids Public Schools central administration Friday.

"In hindsight, the principal should have acted more quickly and alerted us immediately," the spokesman said. "It was after school and she went immediately into a school event that night. These aren't excuses, because we should have got the call, but there wasn't any real and present danger."

Helmholdt said the principal is one of the district's strongest. The district's security chief will let her know the exact process and that "24 hours a day, 7 days a week is when we get phone calls," he said.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Newberry attempting to change city laws that regulate gun usage

NEWBERRY -- Want to shoot airsoft guns, BB guns or even real guns in the city limits of Newberry?

You can't. Not legally, at least.

Recent agricultural annexations in the city of Newberry revealed that under current law, the city bans all gun use in the city, even airsoft gun replicas, except when used for defense.

So the city is now working on amending the city laws regarding weapons. The first attempted amendment was shown Monday night by city attorney Scott Walker.

No vote was taken on the amendment. Commissioners offered advice at the meeting on how Walker could reword the amendment.

The amendment states that as long as someone is a half-mile away from residential, commercial or industrial property, then he or she can shoot a gun.

Some of the problems with that were identified by gun-owning Commissioners Bill Conrad and Joe Hoffman.

A half-mile, Conrad said, is excessive. It should be reduced to an eighth of a mile or no distance at all, as long as the shooter is on agricultural property. Even airsoft guns only go a few hundred feet at most, and the bb loses a lot of its speed at the end of its flight

Hoffman countered that there might need to be some distance or some exception made, since a rifle can shoot an eighth of a mile. But, he didn't want to eliminate recreational shooting.

"Any man with a rifle, I would hope, is governed by his common sense," he said.

Maybe, Conrad also added, exceptions for hunting clubs can be added to clarify the law.

Commissioner Alena Lawson added her own recommendation that the City Commission should be more willing to err on the side of caution.

After Walker makes the proposed changes to the amendment, it will brought back before the elected officials.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Airsoft On the Rise: Bloggers & Retailers Polish Its Image at the Expense of Paintball

UPDATE 01/20: Airsofters are tweeting this piece all over the place – must have touched a nerve….

UPDATE 01/19: An additional thought for all of you to ponder. The article (and airsoft pundits in general) like to point the ‘realism’ and ‘military simulation’ inherent in what they do; some go so far as to kit themselves out in regulation gear, but I wonder if any of them have realized that if the average grunt could be carrying a gun that weighs under a pound, could almost fit in their pocket, has 200+ rounds in its magazine and can fire at ungoverned speeds in excess of 24 rounds per second, they’d drop that multi-pounder, cumbersome monster of an assault rifle in a heartbeat. Read on to find out where this is coming from.

Andy Van Der Plaats (Oklahoma D-Day and one of the originators of scenario games – a guy who knows a lot more about a lot more than most of you don’t know) gave me a heads-up to an article comparing paintball and airsoft on the ANSOMMag website.

Ansom is an acronym for Army-Navy Store and Merchandiser Magazine (it’s a website with a pretty big footprint) and as they say themselves, it “is targeted to retailers selling army/navy surplus, law enforcement, work & casual apparel, footwear, cutlery and outdoor products including camping, hunting, hiking and other outdoor sporting goods.”

Make no mistake, that is quite a large and influential segment of the retail business in this country. It is in fact, a key segment of the retail end of things that paintball equipment distributors have courted for years.

Ansom ran this article in response to and as a follow-on to the reports that appeared earlier in the year in Chattanooga TN, where a local paper ran a pre-Holiday comparison of two area businesses, one an airsoft retailer and the other a paintball retailer. We devoted some coverage and commentary to that article here, and we weren’t surprised to find paintball coming off second.

Now Ansom publishes a follow-up as “internet only bonus” content. If it weren’t for the tone of the entire article, I’d put that down to not having much else to offer on a slow news day.

But alas, there is the tone to consider; if you’re the kind of person who thinks airsoft rules and paintball drools, then this piece absolutely qualifies as bonus. (In the real world, this kind of ‘bonus’ is the equivalent of having an ant crawl by while watching the grass grow. Wow! Such pathos! The majesty! The tension!)

Let’s take a look at the few obviously slanted digs thrown into the piece before we move on to the main subject which is, provocatively – why is airsoft eating our lunch at this game? Paintball is supposed to be the bad boy on the block and yet – regional newspapers are cooperating in lauding the wonders of plastic BB games over our wonderful and American – Made sport.

Before moving on though, a word of caution. This post has been tagged with the EDITORIAL category, wherein we (I) get to tell you my opinion about things. Being an editorial, I try to stick to facts, but I am not restricted to doing so. It is here that I get to share my feelings and my feelings are this:

Airsoft can’t hold a candle to paintball. It’s a second rate “game” that former paintballers have taken to for one of a very few clearly defined reasons: they still want to shoot people, but they can’t afford paintball; they were incapable or unwilling to step up to the skills and training needed to play paintball in a rewarding manner or they just never had the chance to learn how AWESOME paintball is before being hypnotized by battery-operated plastic guns from the orient.

Deep down, each of those airsofters really wants to be a paintballer. The only reason that we get articles like those appearing in ANSOM is so they can assuage their feelings of inadequacy. Reading such helps them forget their shame and allows them to actually enjoy a few hours running around in the woods, fifty pounds of unnecessary gear strapped to their backs while they scream and argue with each other about who shot who first. Everyone likes to believe they’re tough. Airsoft lets these folks actually believe it for a little while.

I generally don’t like, nor do I enjoy pointing out the inadequacies of large groups of my fellow citizens, but there you go. And besides, they started it. (It’s pretty obvious that in this game, maturity doesn’t count for much.)

Do I “hate airsofters with a passion”? No. I actually feel sorry for them. Sometimes. Like once every Blue Moon. If I happen to be thinking about them at the time. Which doesn’t happen that often.

OK. Enough (for now). It’s really way too easy to pick on them. On to the article.

The opening mentions the TN article and snidely comments that “One Holiday season does not necessarily a trend make” – and then goes on to treat that one report, in one regional newspaper, about one airsoft retailer’s sales numbers as the trend that will obviously rescue the entire US economy. This is like arriving at the World Cup a week early and assuming the event has been canceled because none of the teams are there.

The article then immediately segues into an FNC trick, quoting an expert from one side of the argument and just never getting around to presenting the other (one begins to wonder if Rupert owns ANSOM too). We hear opinion (presented as fact) from an expert in the field who opines that the reason why airsoft sales are so much better than paintball sales is because “paintball players frequently rent their gear, airsoft enthusiasts are “geardos” who will buy their own equipment.”

You did mean to say that airsoft players are into buying lots of toys while paintball players spend their money on high-end, quality gear, right? No? Hmmm.

The airsoft pundit goes on, discussing the expense of each activity:

“Paintball players spend high just to be in competitions,” Logan writes. “Paintball ammo is also expensive as compared to plastic BBs which are just a pittance, and you save more if you buy in the thousands.”

Right. All 15+ million of us do nothing but play in competitions all year long and NONE of us buy our paint in quantities larger than a ten round tube at a time. Gee, maybe THAT’S our problem. Buy larger quantities and stop playing in tournaments all the damn time. (What’er ya doin in the bathroom all the time! Get out and give someone else a chance!)

Jeez. Paintballers is so dumb they just never thought of buying paint in quantity. No wonder you should play airsoft.

The pundit concludes with this:

“Having a gun culture, the U.S. players would go for realism and exact firearm replica detailing,” the blogger notes, adding that as replicas of real firearms, airsoft guns can be displayed as part of a collection in the home. Nonetheless, prices on the guns generally top out at about $500 per unit, whereas tournament-level paint markers can cost up to twice as much. Meanwhile, law enforcement units are turning to airsoft for training, “giving competition to simunitions and marker suppliers as airsoft helps keep the costs down and still provide a high degree of realism.”

So I guess I can’t put two gold Automags over my fireplace, but I can put a display of toy guns up?

(Is this guy for real? He really thinks someone is going to say “hey, take a look at my awesome gun collection” and take people down into the basement to see his airsoft guns? You do know how that goes in the home of a paintballer, right? “Yeah, these are my paintball guns. Now let me open up the gun safe and show you the real thing.”)

I’m beginning to think that there’s yet another difference between airsofters and paintballers and that difference is the depth of their fantasizing. No paintballer with more than a single game under their belt believes they’re doing anything other than shooting a paintball gun. Airsofters, well, I’m not sure what they’re thinking. Do they make artillery strike sounds in their heads? Pretend their cars are Hueys or Blackhawks?)

And meanwhile, one of Airsoft’s biggest problems (look-a-like) now becomes a virtue.

Here’s the quote that really got me though:

“Generally speaking, paintball appeals to extreme-sport enthusiasts, while airsoft is favored by those who prefer teamwork and strategy over speed of action. Hence, the greater attention to detail and authenticity, both in the airsoft guns and in the particulars of playing the game.”

Tell you what Buddy boy; you get ten of yours, I’ll get ten of mine and we’ll see who’s all about teamwork and TACTICS. Cripes, you people can’t even use the proper terms to describe what you’re writing about. Paintball and Airsoft are TACTICAL level exercises. When the game covers multiple states you can start using the word Strategic, mm’kay?

I really hate having to take wannabes to school, don’t you? Almost makes me feel sorry for kicking ‘em while they’re down on the ground.

On the other hand, the thunk that kick makes every time it connects is just. so. satisfying.

And here I promised that I was going to be all circumspect in my discourse. Ooops.

So. All that piece ends up amounting to is a pile of self-serving, bad-smelling wind – horse-puckey, cow-flop, doody.

But it does bring up a point. A significant one.

Why am I the only one who’s passionately defending paintball against airsoft? Where’s everybody else? You can’t tell me you’re afraid of a tiny plastic BB. You’d never dare to tell me you’re afraid of their players.

But you all are acting like you are. Let me explain something. The reason why Airsoft magazines, blogs and websites are full of favorable (for them) comparisons between them and us is because they recognize that they’re second fiddle right now – but they don’t intend to stay there.

They’ve also recognized that paintball is very weak at self-promotion (very, very bad, actually – some notable exceptions not-withstanding) and they understand full well (unlike ourselves) that one way to grow an audience is to build up a strawman and then knock it over.

They aren’t just converting paintballers into airsofters (good riddance, I say), they are turning non-players into paintball haters. Kids who’d never ever dream of playing that extreme-sporty, ultra-expensive, hide-n-seek thingie that makes such an awful mess.

I don’t like ‘em, but right now, I do have to admit, they’re playing the game better than we are.

Do you all want to LOSE to a bunch of airsofters?

Step it up guys, step it up, or pretty soon the Airsoft nerds will be looking down their noses at YOU

Friday, January 21, 2011

Erie Indoor Airsoft ignites local interest in popular combat game

The loud popping sound of orange-tipped M4 airsoft rifles rang out.

Somewhere close by, Cody Pamula, 14, kept still with his back to the wall.

All around, men and boys of all ages -- faces obscured by masks -- ran, dodged and dived between plywood walls, industrial barrels and the kind of fake plants commonly found in office waiting rooms.

Someone peeked out of a nearby window cutout, only to jerk his head back quickly before a swarm of bullets hit the wall with loud "thwacks."

Pamula braced himself and sprinted across the field, shooting as he went.

Then he felt a sharp sting. He'd been shot.

Like all the other players in the Erie Airsoft arena who had been tagged, he simply raised his airsoft gun in the air and walked, yelling "Dead man walking," while the rest of the players finished the game.

Airsoft is a combat sport that uses small, round plastic pellets, or BBs, shot from realistic-looking guns. In the last decade, the sport has gained momentum in Asia and Europe.

Erie Airsoft -- located in Forward Hall, 2502 Peach St. -- is advertised as the area's first commercial arena for the sport that's now gaining popularity in the United States.

"When we started, we had one to 10 kids come in on a weekend," said Chris Gerhart, founder and co-owner of Erie Airsoft, which opened after Christmas in 2009. "Now we have about 40. There's just been a lot of enthusiasm.

"It's very affordable," he added. "That's a big plus with this economy."

The floor above Forward Hall's performance space is a kind of war-torn urbanscape that might be found in the virtual worlds of "Call of Duty" or "Fallout" video games.

For $10 each, players can run for six hours in an arena of plywood buildings, stacks of tires and barrels playing airsoft.

In the showroom outside the arena, players can rent any of the airsoft guns and airsoft protective padding displayed on the walls and in glass counter cases.

But as far as strategy goes, players are on their own.

"There are no limitations. You can run, crouch, hide -- do whatever you can to survive," Gerhart said. "It's fascinating to watch a group of 12-year-olds come up with a battle plan."

Injury is a reality, which is why players are required to wear protective masks that cover their eyes and ears, and other padding. Despite the orange tip that marks these replica airsoft guns as fake, they're used as though they were real.

Signs close to the airsoft arena list the rules of the game and a disclaimer: "By entering, you will be responsible for any risks or loss or injury!!!"

"Every sport has inherent danger, and we try to minimize that as much as possible. Treat the Airsoft guns as if they were real guns. It can't be stated enough -- we do a lot of airsoft safety briefing," said Gerhart, who served in Iraq from January 2004 to May 2005.

"Players often have a greater respect for weapons safety after they handle Airsoft rifles," he said.=

Behind a large door is the close-quarter battlefield, crude plywood buildings with painted-on bricks or simply graffiti. The only illumination comes from Christmas lights lining parts of the buildings, casting an eerie glow on the entire scene.

As you walk, stray BBs from past battles are kicked up and sent scurrying across the floor.

"Players like it rough looking. They like it looking like a battlefield," Gerhart said. "This is the physical, real world version of a first-person shooter."

Renovations for a second arena in the basement are already underway, which will add about 500 square feet of new airsoft arena space. While the current upstairs arena can accommodate about 40-50 airsoft players at a time, the new addition will allow for a total of about 75-80 airsoft players.

The new arena, which will be connected to the upstairs arena, will be available to players in about a week, Gerhart said.

As word-of-mouth spreads and signs are posted around the city, more players are showing up each weekend. Pamula discovered Airsoft when a friend had a birthday party at the arena a few months ago. Now he's there most weekends.

"I tried it out and I loved it," he said. "It's just a lot of fun to play with your friends."

On a recent weekend, Pamula came with a group of about 20 people -- including his father, Jay Pamula, 36, who is quickly becoming a fan of the game.

The challenge and strategy needed to play the game -- which also can be used for military training -- adds a level of excitement that can't be found in a video game.

"It's not a game where you put in a quarter every time," Cody Pamula said. "With a video game, you're on your living room couch. Here you're moving, you're breathing heavy and diving around corners."

Although there are safety concerns with Airsoft, Jay Pamula said he likes the indoor setting that's closely monitored by employees.

"I'd rather him play here than on the streets or in the woods where no one is watching and keeping airsoft safety in mind," he said.

Jay Pamula, a staff sergeant with the U.S. Army Reserves, also served in Iraq. The combat style of Airsoft allows for a more realistic experience than paintball.

The biggest threats aren't the big and burly former servicemen in the arena. It's most likely Toby Charlton, a quick and slight 7-year-old who stands only a few feet tall.

His strategy: "Stay in one spot and shoot."

His brother, Tyler Charlton, 8, has the opposite approach: "I'm usually the one who goes 'Let's go, let's go!' You have to get them before they get you. It's really exciting."

Flushed from the excitement of a recent battle, Tyler already has made plans to come back for his birthday party on March 29.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mistaken identity

Toy guns can do a lot more than put out an eye, break the window of a home, ding up a car and freak out the neighbor's cats.
If your kid was gifted an airsoft gun over the holidays, beware before letting them head out the door to shoot at targets in suburbia.
"If it looks like a real weapon, don't use it out in public," Sgt. Pete Smith of the Stockton Police Department said of BB, airsoft, paint guns or other toy weapons that appear authentic. "Do not wield it as a hoax or a ruse. Don't flash it around like it's a real gun because if law enforcement comes on scene, we don't know right off the bat if it is a threat, and we would hate to see a tragedy occur."
Airsoft guns are growing in popularity.
Many models are clear plastic, camouflage or even pink. But a growing number of teens prefer the fiercer black airsoft guns that are replicates of actual firearms. Found at sporting goods outlets such as Bass Pro Shops, other big box stores and online, the toys are legal and propel little plastic neon-colored BBs. But when these airsoft guns eerily resemble weapons, it can lead to a 911 call.
A group of north Stockton teenage boys found this out on Veterans Day when they met up to go out to a deserted open space in the Delta and shoot their airsoft guns.
"One of the boys was spotted walking by a middle school dressed in a black trench coat with what looked like a real gun on his shoulder," said Russ Rieber, a dad whose son and friends learned a lesson that day after concerned passersby called 911. "The police came to our house where the boys were (meeting up) and it was quite a scare. One of the friends walked out the door with his airsoft gun in hand as the police were surrounding the house."
Local law enforcement officials say that in such situations they have no choice but to assume they are dealing with a real threat.
Rieber said police thought the toy gun was real and handcuffed the teen. The kids still inside the home were unaware that they had created a scare. They heard some noise and thought their friends were playing a trick on them. One of the boys walked out the front door with two toy pistols that resembled real handguns and yelled "freeze," according to Rieber. Quickly realizing what was going on, he complied with police demands to get on the ground.
"If it weren't for the professionalism of the Stockton PD, this story could have had a very tragic ending," Rieber said, adding that the group of teens ending up being handcuffed while police determined whether they were dealing with a legitimate threat. "After being lectured by the police, (they) learned that they can't walk around the neighborhood with toy guns that look real. They shouldn't even walk out the door with one in their hand."
The Riebers thought long and hard about banning the toys but decided to let their son continue to use his airsoft gun if he followed the advice police issued that day.
For Christmas, the Riebers gave the airsoft gun fans in their family duffel bags so the toy guns can be transported without drawing attention.
"When we get on the scene we will treat it like it's a real threat until we determine otherwise," Smith said of 911 calls police respond to that turn out to be kids playing with toy weapons. "There's a level of responsibility that comes with having a toy gun that looks real."
Smith advises that if the toy guns are realistic, play with them inside, in a private area or in an airsoft gun arena.
"Even driving, don't have it out on the seat of your car," he said. "If you are involved in a traffic stop, the officer could mistake your toy for a threat. Transport that in your trunk."
After learning their lesson, Reiber said the teenagers found out about an indoor airsoft gun arena on Eight Mile Road in Stockton where kids - and adults, too - have 60,000 square feet of space to team up and play search-and-rescue scenarios or even capture the flag. Now, they take the airsoft game inside.
The owner of CBQ City said he originally opened the arena several years ago to give law enforcement officers a place to train. In the past year, it has become popular with kids.
"Police would tell me that I should open it up to let kids and teens have a place to play," Joey Rubio of CBQ City said on a recent Sunday as the rat-tat-tat sounds of airsoft gun fire rattled around him. "They tell me that these guns get mistaken for actual weapons. They look so real that police can't tell right away that they are toys. Plus, you never know, bad guys could paint a real gun to look like a toy version."
Although most airsoft guns have neon-orange tips to differentiate them from the real thing, but some kids paint the tips black to make the guns look more authentic.
On this particular day, scores of camo-clad men, teenagers and even some young boys were shooting their airsoft guns in the warehouse, where there are barriers, wooden buildings, vehicles and other scene-staging structures to resemble an urban area.
"They are playing a scenario where they compete to find a downed pilot," Rubio said. "This is a safe environment. We check out everyone's gun. They have to be wearing the proper safety equipment. And we have referees to make sure no one gets hurt."
Andrew Rodriguez of Stockton watched his 11-year-old son Adrian take part in the action. As the referee signaled a lunch break, a beaming Adrian told his dad thanks.
"This is so fun," he said.
Rodriguez said there were a lot of kids Adrian's age participating that day.
"My son got his airsoft gun for Christmas. We didn't even realize this place was close to our home," Rodriguez said. "We went and watched one day just to check it out. Then we went and he took part. He said it was one of the most fun things he had ever done."
Rodriguez said his son's gun looks like the real thing.
"It might be OK to play with in your backyard, but it's just really unsafe to be out in the street with something like that," he said of the toy. "Even if it doesn't look real, it's just not smart. It's unsafe."
Rodriguez said his son will only be using his airsoft gun at an indoor airsoft arena such as CBQ City.
"It's a really cool place. It's safe and it's supervised," Rodriguez said, adding there is an extra bonus. "Plus, the kids are only shooting at people that are OK with getting hit by a plastic BB."
For parents who allow their kids to play with toy guns outside, Lodi Police Det. Eric Bradley has some advice.
"The first advice is to not have a realistic paint ball gun, BB gun or airsoft gun outside, period. But the second advice is that if you are living in a neighborhood and you are going to play with an airsoft gun, let the neighbors know what you are doing and let them know it's not a real gun," he said, adding that if there are other kids outside - even bystanders - everyone should be wearing protective eye gear. "It's a good idea to have some adult supervision so passersby know that it's kids out having fun with parents watching. And don't be playing with a real-looking toy gun at or near a school, ever."
Police said it's important to think about the consequences of playing with a realistic gun out in public.
"Obviously for our safety and the public safety, we have to treat it like a real dangerous weapon until we prove otherwise," Bradley said. "And that will always be our response."

Five ways to automatic expulsion

Some offenses are an automatic out — the “big five,” Modesto City Schools administrators called them, dictated by state Education Code and listed in the Student Conduct Code:
• Possessing or furnishing a firearm (Airsoft guns considered firearms in this district)
• Brandishing a knife at a person
• Selling drugs
• Sexual assault
• Possession of explosives (not fireworks)
“Those are the kids you can’t have on your campus,” said Thor Harrison, director of education services grades 7-12.
“It’s very rare, very rare, that a gun shows up at a school,” said Modesto police Sgt. Jason Grogan, who supervises Modesto City Schools’ four campus officers. He said the one incident his officers recalled from last year involved a replica, an Airsoft gun, that the district categorized as a firearm. Regardless of their error, never bring Airsoft guns to school!
“Primarily, it’s knives,” said Grogan. He said there were also several criminal cases where baseball bats were considered weapons in recent years.
Knife sightings are partly a reflection of this area’s agricultural setting, Harrison said. Some students use them routinely on the farm and don’t think of them as weapons.
“They forget … I can’t have this tool at school,” Harrison said.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Oakhurst school incident puts focus on bullying

OAKHURST -- The controversy over how a teacher and school officials dealt with an 8-year-old accused bully at Oakhurst Elementary School has cast a spotlight on a national problem.
Second-grade teacher Elaine Brown said she was forced to suspend the boy after school officials failed to act on repeated complaints. Among the allegations, said Brown: The boy told a classmate he was "going to bring a gun to school and shoot him."
District officials don't deny that bullying problems have occurred recently at the 334-student school. But they said Brown violated the boy's right to privacy by talking to other parents about the allegations. She was placed on paid administrative leave on Nov. 29.
Many in this small mountain community 45 miles north of Fresno have rallied to the teacher's defense. Nearly 100 people packed a special school board meeting Jan. 6 to talk about bullying and defend Brown.
The controversy has raised questions about how schools deal with bullies, especially when the accused is so young.Bullying
Heath Wood, a clinical psychologist with Soul Shoppe Inc., demonstrates feelings encountered when dealing with bullies during a presentation.Bullying
Teacher Elaine Brown, who was placed on administrative leave from Oakhurst Elementary School, bides her time at home, waiting for the outcome of a hearing. Among the charges against her was her refusal to take an 8-year-old suspended for bullying back into her second-grade classroom for the safety of the other children.Bullying
A sixth-grader offers emotional support to a friend during an emotionally powerful meeting about bullying experiences, held Thursday afternoon in a Wasuma Elementary School classroom.Bullying
Heath Wood, a clinical psychologist with Soul Shoppe Inc., talks to second-grade students at Wasuma Elementary School in Ahwahnee. Wood gave a presentation about bullying Thursday. An incident at Oakhurst Elementary has raised questions about how schools deal with bullies, especially when the accused is so young.Bullying
Second-grade students raise their hands during a presentation about bullying at Wasuma Elementary School.
The link between a victim and a bully
All threats need to be taken seriously, no matter the age, said Peter Sheras, professor of clinical and school psychology at the University of Virginia. Author of the book "Your Child: Bully or Victim?" he is associate director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project.
"Have 8-year-olds brought guns to school? Yes," Sheras said.
Sheras says almost every child has the potential to become a bully or victim. Often, they are one and the same, as victims sometimes turn to bullying.
"A child who bullies, bullies for a reason," he said. "There is no such thing as a born bully -- they learn this somewhere."
In Oakhurst, many think school officials could have avoided the current controversy with earlier action.
The father of the accused bully said his son's conduct has been misunderstood and that the boy -- himself a victim of bullying -- has been unfairly demonized.
Jeremy Mason said the family was blindsided by accusations that he said have been blown out of proportion. For example, one claim is that his son tried to choke another student; in reality, he simply pulled on the collar of a boy who had been taunting him, Mason said.
The reported gun threat referred to an Airsoft gun his son mentioned bringing for show-and-tell. Mason said his son was planning to buy the gun with $100 his mother promised him if he stayed out of trouble in school for two weeks. Similar to BB guns, Airsoft guns use lightweight plastic projectiles propelled by compressed gas or a spring-driven piston.
Mason said his son has been made out to be a monster, and he now fears for the boy's safety, because it seems as if the whole community has turned against him.
"I'm not saying he is completely innocent," Mason said. "But if he was such a problem, why didn't they address it earlier?"
Parents and experts suggest that bullying complaints need to be taken seriously and tackled early on before they get out of hand.
"You have to stop the behavior so it doesn't become part of their character," said Larry Powell, Fresno County schools superintendent. "When you spot something that is inappropriate behavior, you have to act immediately."
Measures being sought
Bullying is a significant problem in the nation's schools. About one in four students report they've been bullied, in many cases frequently, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The U.S. Department of Justice describes bullying as "aggressive behavior that is intentional (not accidental or done in fun) and that involves an imbalance of power or strength." It can take many forms including "hitting or punching, teasing or name-calling, intimidation through gestures and social exclusion."

Saturday, January 01, 2011

May God spare this band of cousins

Someone always fought his battles for him. Still are.

Father: Europe. U.S. Army Air Forces. Survived.
Dead now.

Father-in-law: The Pacific. U.S. Marine Corps. Survived.
Dead now.

Brother-in-law: Vietnam. U.S. Army. Survived.

And there have been so many more, those he knew or knows and mostly those he never knew or doesn't know.The man himself doesn't know the first thing about fighting a battle for himself, other than what he knows from the movies or miniseries or the books they were based on. And the news reports still coming in from the battles that are still being fought on his behalf. About four years ago, he didn't know how to fight an ersatz battle in the woods, an Airsoft game called “Capture the flag.”Two flags, two teams, two bases. From the official rules: “Each airsoft team is trying to retrieve the opposing team's flag and return it to their base without getting eliminated.”“Eliminated” means that you've been hit with a plastic airsoft BB bullet. Positions are assigned: attackers, guards, scouts. An airsfot player carrying the flag of his team who is “eliminated” must drop the flag immediately. Then someone else must fight the battle for him. What surprised the man wasn't the complexity of the game or its rigors. What surprised him was that his grandson, then about 12, knew how to fight a battle and knew how to command the old guy whom the boy called “Peepaw” when he was a lad of about 4, by which time he was already into weaponry — making his own if necessary. The man was on Ethan's team, paired against a team with two other grandsons. Each knew precisely what his role would be. They fought in a six-acre theater of war, on terrain as hilly as central Oklahoma can be, bulging with trees, some big enough to hide behind, to avoid “elimination.”Jacob and Andrew were on the enemy team. The man, Ethan's teammate, was in his early 50s. He didn't know what to do, where to be. Ethan did know and barked commands like E Company's Dick Winters. Dick Winters: U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division. Inspiration for “Band of Brothers.” Survived. Dead now, as of Jan. 2. These children were playing at war and playing to win. They anticipated the enemy's moves. They attacked when prudent and laid low when necessary. It was short, as battles go, and bloodless.Who won doesn't matter. What matters is what the man learned from it: That these boys have leadership skills he didn't know they had. That they have the instincts to survive a battle and also the guts not to run from one.This band of cousins gathered back at the house and the older two talked of real war and how they might one day have to fight in one. They knew the law would require them to register with Selective Service, just as the man himself had done when he turned 18 and there was a real draft and there was a real war. Ethan is 16 now, his passion for weaponry largely drummed out of him by a more recent interest in making music. Jacob is nearly 17, a year from his date with the draft board. He still enjoys playing at airsoft war and would probably make a good soldier.But may God spare all three of my grandsons from elimination while fighting a real battle on my behalf.