Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do Not Underestimate Airsoft as a Training Aid for Youths

My son who is 15 years old recently got into Airsoft and started to amass a collection of replica looking, fully functioning and firing Airsoft rifles and airsoft pistols.

I had planned on enrolling him in a Hunter's Safety course soon as he is of age but the more I watched him and his buddies play Airsoft in the bush like a rag-tag wild bunch I decided to take action. This was a good way to train them to be soldiers. Mostly because it was out of fear of some of the younger children getting seriously injured, since those plastic airsoft pellets hurt [and a great risk of eye injury]s. I told them that I would treat them like soldiers and adults as long as they acted the part. That little bit of respect given them was enough to make them attentive and more mature acting then some of the recruits that I’ve had to deal with in the past.

a) The first thing I did was break them down into two teams that were roughly equal in both ages and sizes.
b) Then, just like instructing recruits it was weapon basics and Immediate Action (IAs) on the airsoft rifle. (Almost all of them had Airsoft M4 look-alikes.) I covered the Load, unload, and make safe, clear weapons for inspection. Then more advanced drills like IAs for obstructions and so forth.
c) After I was confident that the 11 year olds could remedy stoppages as well as the 15 year olds then it was small section tactics. Section sized advance to contact, moving and covering and the final assault of a position. After the advance, I taught them defensive positions and ambushes.
d) In our neighborhood most kids are military brats so they all had Dad’s or Mom’s old field uniforms, I made sure they had ballistic eyewear, Being in Supply it was my gift to them. Then we went into camouflage and concealment.

Now when they wage war on each other there is no such thing as one-sided matches. Some would say that I should not be teaching kids that sort of thing, but I played war as a kid and I believe it prepared me for a life in the military; it has been that way since the dawn of time. Mostly I trained them how to safely handle a weapon and how to perform escape and evasion, valuable lessons if and when the Schumer hits the fan.

In the beginning of summer I took my son on canoe trip, I packed my bug out gear and made sure that he did the same, everything that he would need. All of the equipment was divided equally and even though he is only 15 and not fully-grown, he did a commendable job of keeping up with the old man on portages.

Once we were deep in Algonquin Park I started to teach him actual bushcraft such as fire starting. We did not use a match the entire weekend. It was fire steels; he needed to know that over a long period that matches and lighters would be in short supply. I taught him tracking, or should I say the basics of tracking. It takes a lifetime of experience that makes you good at tracking. What woods to use as kindling, what wood to use for as smokeless as a fire as possible, how to knock off pine knots to burn. We brought our wrist rocket slingshots and he was able to bag both a squirrel and a grouse so I taught him how to skin and clean each plus how to clean a fish. That turned out to be a welcome change from the MREs that we had brought with us.

When we were prepping for our canoe trip, I bought a couple topographical maps and taught him how to read the lay of the land from a map. I got him to research the available crown land surrounding the park to see if there were any viable options for camping on public land. A mini orienteering course was put on for his benefit. I taught him the basics, like how to take a bearing, follow a bearing. Using back bearings to get home. The more advanced stuff will come, like calculating magnetic declination and triangulation on a map to find your location.

I have been a sheet metal worker, plumber, electrician, oil burner mechanic, combat engineer. I worked in a cabinet shop, framed houses and on rejoining the military a Supply technician. Little by little, I have been trying to teach my son that it is best to be a jack-of-all-trades and like many kids whose parents remember the Great Depression and rationing of World War II, I know the value of making a little go a long way. So we work on our bicycles together, I would rather show him once how to do something so he will know how to do it himself. In addition, it is a lot cheaper then paying someone else to do something. Now that he’s in high school his interests have been the shop classes, I totally encourage him to take wood shop, welding and small engine repair seriously and made him aware that home economics is a must. I might have told him that girls dig a guy who can cook.

When my son seen the items coming into the house bought through eBay and his interest peaked when it came to prepping. I made a master list of items we need for long-term survival and when I am not on the laptop he will surf the internet looking for great deals. His best find was a case of food grade 6.5-gallon pails without lids. We promptly went to Mountain Equipment Co-op and bought enough Gamma Seal lids to cover them.

Right now, our goal is to start accumulating ammunition and teaching him how to strip and assemble the weapons, we have at home. Presently, case lots of 7.62x39mm ammo are relatively inexpensive so I’ll be able to get him sighted in on his own SKS and get him to practice using the stripper clips to reload.

The basement is starting to look more like a supply depot but that is all right. It is all about keeping it organized and to know what you have, where it is and how to use it. Right now for his punishment when he does the normal teen angst I make him do the laundry in the new “Wonder Wash”. Some serious hand cranking on a Saturday morning without access to Internet, PS3 or hanging out with his friends is almost in line with child abuse in his mind but it teaches him a couple valuable lessons. 1) Don’t screw up, and 2) Know how to do laundry by hand.

One part of the basement is our home gym. Lots of free weights, being military physical fitness of mandatory and it is great father son time together working out. Because we are living in married quarters on base, going on a rucksack march is nothing out of the ordinary, so out of the 20 to 30 guys doing that at night for PT, my son gets a chance to don his ruck and practice carrying all his gear.

When I began prepping, I kept it a secret but now that he is all in, I feel a lot better about it. It is still our little secret but it is good to know that we are doing everything we can increase our odds when TEOTWAWKI comes. Family is first in my book, but now I know of six kids who are fully weapons trained and have the basics of field craft down.

This winter I have him going with one of my friends who has a trap line to learn more about wilderness survival then I have time to teach him. I should also mention that I have two daughters that are grown up. I did my best by them as well. They know what to do if they get in trouble: run like mad, split up from friends and gather in a pre-arranged Rendezvous Point at a specific time. My oldest daughter is an awesome angler and always shows up her old man when out on the river. When they were little I always had them going out with us deer hunting and they have watched us field dress and skin many deer without the slightest hint of squeamishness. They are "girly girl" now but I know they have a solid foundation to build on.

So all of you parents out there, it is never too early to start your children off on the right foot. Even if it is just exposure to new things. Get them to help in the garden, or to go on an evening walk…do fun things like identify trees and plants and tell them what they are used for or feed them venison, or muskrat or beaver once to make them aware that not all food has to come from the super market.

JWR Adds: As I've mentioned before in SurvivalBlog, Airsoft and paintball are fine for learning some aspects of camouflage and small team tactics. The fatal flaws of both, however, are that:

1.) Since Airsoft pellets have hardly any penetration beyond five yards, players start to subconsciously equate concealment with cover.

2.) Because Airsoft pellets and paint balls only have limited range, people start to subconsciously think of anything beyond that range as "safely out of range" (for maneuver in the open.)

If you can regularly remind yourself about those shortcomings and adjust your training regimen accordingly, then you'll find that they provide somewhat worthwhile training. But it is essential that you integrate high velocity ballistic realism. This means declaring anyone that blatantly stands up in the open at 50+ yards "dead meat." Ditto for anyone that mistakenly takes "cover" behind bushes or small trees. Always remember: concealment is not cover!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Elementary kids most expelled over fake guns

Elementary school students toting fake airsoft guns to campus made up the largest group of public school children in each of the last two school years expelled for firearms violations, a trend that's spurring educators to redouble efforts to warn younger kids about bringing replica airsoft guns to school.
The issue has also prompted lawmakers to consider a measure that would ban the sale of toy or replica airsoft guns to minors.
Over the past five years, the Department of Education has dramatically decreased firearms expulsions thanks to a statewide campaign educating students on the big consequences for bringing a gun — real or fake — to school.
But although the number of firearms-related expulsions at elementary schools is down from a five-year high of 32 in 2005-06, expulsions have gone up over the past three years — to 17 last school year from eight in the 2007-08 school year.
By comparison, there were only four expulsions at high schools for firearms violations last school year, according to a recently released annual report to the Legislature.
Officials emphasize that almost all of the expulsions — across grades — were for fake guns. (Last school year, there was one expulsion statewide for a real handgun and one expulsion for explosives.)
Although the guns are fake, the punishment is real. Breaking the rules means a yearlong expulsion, regardless of age.
Ronn Nozoe, DOE deputy superintendent, said the number of firearms expulsions at elementary schools is a concern — and evidence that more work is needed to warn parents and kids about the punishment for bringing a fake gun to campus.
"With the younger kids, they may not be fully aware of the ramifications," he said. "I'm sure they know they're going to get in trouble, but they might be curious. They might be modeling behavior.
"At the same time, they've got to know, if they make a mistake there's quite a consequence attached to it," Nozoe said.

Firearms ExpulsionThe Department of Education expanded its definition of a firearm in 1997 to include pellet and airsoft guns. The penalty for bringing a firearm to campus is a one-year expulsion. Here's how the DOE defines a firearm:» Any weapon including, but not limited to, a starter gun, shotgun and air guns, which include BB guns, pellet guns and paintball guns.» Any other instrument that will or is designed to be converted to expel a projectile.» The frame or receiver of any such weapon.» Any firearm muffler or firearm silencer.» Any destructive device, including explosives, grenades, rockets, missiles, mines or similar devices.
Source: Department of Education
THE NEW FIGURES on elementary school expulsions for firearms come amid rising popularity for replica guns that, principals say, look real and could be dangerous.
At the start of this school year, two eighth-graders were expelled from Washington Middle School — one for bringing a replica gun to campus, the other for pointing it at a classmate.
Principal Mike Harano said the student who brought the gun to campus purchased it for $10 at a store near the school. The gun, he said, looked real and shot plastic pellets.
"It could take your eye out," he said. "I really think we can't be too careful."
After the incident, the school asked the store not to sell its fake guns to kids. Harano said the guns are still for sale there, but aren't displayed as prominently.
The incident prompted lawmakers to introduce legislation that would ban the sale of toy guns to minors, a measure critics call too vague and unnecessary.
Rep. Scott Saiki (D, Moiliili-McCully-Kaimuki), who authored the House version of the proposed ban, said lawmakers will have to decide how to define "toy gun" or what shouldn't be sold to minors.
As the law is written, he said, toy guns would include anything from a water pistol to a BB gun.
"I'm not sure how you draw the line," he added.
But, Saiki said, the intent of the bill is to make sure replica guns that look real don't get into the hands of children without a parent's permission.
"The primary concern is the safety of children and students," he said. "A student could have a toy gun that looks real, be playing with it at night and a police officer" could be called.
"It could end in disaster," Saiki said.
Chris Baker, president of the Hawaii Defense Foundation, argues the bill isn't needed and won't stop any kid from bringing a fake gun to school.
"If they're worried about bringing them to school, this is really not going to prevent that," he said.
MEANWHILE, vendors of a popular kind of replica called airsoft guns say they don't sell the items to children anyway and don't let kids play at events without a parent's permission.
Airsoft guns fire nonlethal plastic airsoft BBs and are hot-ticket items for youths.
As in paintball games, groups gather to play with the guns in indoor and outdoor areas, donning safety masks and helmets. But unlike paintball guns, the airsoft guns are lifelike — so much so that a 2003 city ordinance banned carrying one uncovered on a street or public land.
Businesses that sell airsoft guns said when parents purchase them for children, they make sure to spell out how to use them properly and where kids can — and can't — play with them.
Grant Woo, co-owner of Impact Games in Aiea, said the solution to the expulsions problems at schools is not tougher laws, but more parental oversight.
"With some of these younger kids, they might not realize how serious it is to play with any kind of replica toy gun," he said. "It's very important for the parents to really reinforce with the kids."
Randall Omoto and his 15-year-old son, Avery, play together with airsoft guns and follow strict safety protocols.
"At home, we treat them like real guns," Omoto said.
He agreed that it's up to parents to drive home for kids that replica guns need to be treated with respect, and shouldn't be taken to school.
"I think it's a parental problem," he said.
THE DEPARTMENT of Education said that through bulletins and letters home it is trying to get the message to parents about its firearms policy.
Nozoe added that although schools have made progress on cutting the number of firearms violations, even one incident is too many.
Students who are expelled for a firearms violation get work sent home from their schools, but aren't allowed on school grounds until the afternoon bell has rung, when they can get help from teachers and use school computers.
Parents can appeal expulsions, and in some cases children are allowed back early.
Either way, Nozoe said, "it's a big, big imposition" on families.
Schools that have had expulsions for firearms violations say they've used the incidents as teachable moments to reinforce the consequences of bringing a replica gun to school.
Dale Castro, principal at Mililani Waena Elementary School, said that after an expulsion for a fake gun at his campus, he made sure to remind parents and students about the firearms rules.
"It's really important to have effective communication of the policy," he said.
Karen Liu, principal of King Kaumualii Elementary on Kauai, said that after a recent firearms expulsion, staff members spoke to classes on the seriousness of the violation.
"We always follow up," she said.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Student charged with felony for waving gun

An elementary student was met with more than their typical walk home from school on Thursday afternoon.
The student hadn't ZA.
The juvenile was allegedly in a pickup truck with three of their peers when the younger student noticed what was believed to be a pistol being waved in their direction, according to Berger.
"We take this very seriously," he said. "This is unacceptable and we will not accept any kind of behavior like this in this community."
Officials from the WYPD received a call from victim's parents shortly after the victim told them what had happened.
The victim described the weapon as being a silver and black pistol, but Sergeant Matt Stubblefield and Berger later discovered that the weapon in question was a clear airsoft pistol with black grips after confiscating the weapon from the older student.
Smith and Wesson manufactures the airsoft pistols that shoot plastic pellets instead of metal bullets, but look stunningly real when compared to actual firearms, according to Berger.
The high schooler is being charged with felony assault with a weapon, according to Stubblefield.
"The felony charges come into play because it took place on school grounds. Assault with a weapon is (when someone is) causing reasonable apprehension with a weapon. The weapon is made by Smith and Wesson, who makes handguns. It's a close enough replica to a handgun," Stubblefield said.
A time for the juvenile to appear in court will be arranged through Gallatin County Youth Probation, according to Stubblefield. The juvenile and his parents will meet with youth probation and parole officials.
The juvenile is being charged as a minor, but the crime can carry stronger punishments due to the serious nature of the offense.
"Felony assault with a weapon is one of the crimes that can be tried as an adult," Stubblefield said.
He responded to a similar call while working in Utah involving a boy that had lost an eye from being shot with an airsoft gun.
"People don't realize the amount of damage airsoft guns can do, especially at close range," he said.
Students were released early from school at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday for a scheduled curriculum development day for teachers and staff.
West Yellowstone School Superintendent Lael Calton verified that no weapons entered the school building, but did not take the matter lightly.
"Safety in the school is priority number one for all of our students and our staff and we have very specific rules and policies in place in order to protect them," she said.
The school district has a zero tolerance weapons policy and anyone who violates that policy will be dealt with in a severe manner, according to Calton.
Calton and high school principal Terry Falcon conducted a separate internal investigation of the incident because it occurred on school grounds.
Varying factors are taken into consideration when an investigation is being conducted by school officials, according to Calton.
"As a superintendent I have to be concerned with firearms, weapons, guns or dangerous conduct in or on school property," she said.
Only one juvenile is being charged by police, but Calton and Falcon spoke with all students involved in the matter.
She did not indicate if the student with the airsoft gun had been suspended from school or not, or what possible disciplinary action will be taken against the students.
She was disturbed at how difficult it was to discern that the airsoft gun was not an actual firearm, but regards any weapon as extremely serious.
Like the rest of the nation, West Yellowstone residents aren't immune to turning on their television sets and risking the chance of seeing weapons and violence being cast over the airwaves. The chance of real life violence taking place is also something that can happen just about anywhere.
"Nobody, no school, no state and no town is immune from something like this happening. Fortunately we have a small enough town and for the most part our students respect our rules and have exemplary conduct," Calton said. "But sometimes our kids make poor choices and they are still kids. Hopefully they will learn from their poor choices and they won't make them again."
Stubblefield hasn't dealt with this type of incident at the school in the past, but wants the kids to understand the seriousness of the incident.
"It's very apparent that the kids (involved) don't understand how serious it is and it is likely to happen again if they're not made to understand just how serious it is," he said.
Calton reminded school students what the rules are regarding the weapons policy this week by adding the policy guidelines to the morning announcements that are cast over the PA system at the beginning of each school day.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Federal agents declare popular toy gun a firearm

Is it a toy or a dangerous weapon?

The KING 5 Investigators have obtained government documents in which federal agents declare that a popular type of toy, an airsoft rifle, is a “firearm”.

Even though agents have reached this conclusion, we’ve found that there is a strange secrecy in the air when it comes to informing the public about this potential threat.

It all stems from the public outcry that started when agents seized a shipment of these airsoft “toys” at the Port of Tacoma last year. The “toys” are airsoft guns, known as airsoft, which are wildly popular with kids. They shoot plastic airsoft BB’s using air or gas.

“The way you tell it's not real is the orange tip,” said 11-year-old Peter Crites, as he played an airsoft game with friends recently at a Seattle park. “It's illegal not to have an orange tip on it."

But now, orange tip or not, federal agents say some airsoft gun replicas have crossed the line from make believe to the real thing.

Internal ATF memo

KING 5 obtained a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms internal memo and other documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

ATF said it "evaluated several of these airsoft guns" and determined they are "firearms", and some even "machine guns," in the eyes of the law.

ATF said thousands of air guns meeting that definition have been imported into the United States.
There was an outcry early last year on the Internet and talk radio when ATF took its first public shots at airsoft guns.

Critics demanded to know why the government was targeting "toys." Records we obtained show that even three United States senators wanted explanations from ATF after agents at the Port of Tacoma seized an incoming shipment of airsoft guns.

The high-end, all metal guns cost about $400 each. Air guns like those seized in Tacoma are produced by a variety of foreign and domestic manufacturers who emphasize the realism of their products.

But could these airsoft rifles actually fire bullets?

Testing the guns

“That looks like a real firearm. If someone pointed that at me I would shoot them," said Wade Gaughran, the owner of Wade’s Eastside Guns in Bellevue. He has a staff of gunsmiths who service AR-15 rifles, which are what the replica guns seized by the ATF are modeled after.

Gaughran agreed to analyze an airsoft manufactured by the same company that produced those air guns.

"I can see where the problem is,” Gaughran said as he looked at the airsoft that KING 5 purchased on the Internet. “They have gone to a level of realism that I have not seen before."

It's what inside that Gaughran found most disturbing.

"This actually looks like an auto sear out of a machine gun," he said. He found internal parts that could allow someone to make a fully functioning lower receiver, the only part of the gun that requires a background check to buy.

"In all firearms, the receiver is the registered or controlled part," said Gaughran. “We could set in the trigger parts with very little alteration and you would get a weapon that would fire."

A converted airsoft receiver could be mounted onto many powerful real guns.

Even worse, it would be untraceable. On a real AR-15 lower receiver, there is a serial number and markings that help law enforcement trace its history if used in a crime. Investigators often use these numbers to link a gun to a suspect. The airsoft receiver is unmarked and untraceable.

While ATF sources and documents cannot point to one incident where an airsoft receiver was used in a crime, documents received from KING 5’s public records requests do list a half-dozen cases in which criminals paid top dollar for untraceable firearm receivers.

At Wade’s Gunshop, we asked the gunsmith to try to fire live rounds from our airsoft. Gaughran said he believes the average person couldn’t do it.

"What we were trying to do is find out how easy it would be for a kid with a drill or a criminal with some common tools and that wasn't the case,” said Gaughran, explaining that his gunsmith could not make the airsoft toy fire with a minimal amount of tinkering.

In its labs, ATF said it did fire rounds from several converted airsoft guns including one of the Tacoma guns.

“If the ATF was able to make this fire, I wouldn't dispute that," said Gaughran.

ATF response

While ATF has ruled that guns like this are firearms, it appears to still be stinging from the criticism.

ATF refused to explain on camera what its ruling means to people who buy or possess these guns. The public records we received are heavily censored. Even those marked "media plan" are blacked-out.

When it comes to airsoft, America's gun police are decidedly gun-shy.

ATF did issue a written statement to KING 5, however, in which the bureau said it has been working with manufacturers to make sure their airsoft guns are legal.

The Taiwanese manufacturer of the guns seized in Tacoma has not been charged, and did not respond to the KING 5 Investigators repeated emails seeking comment.