Chances are that you have heard of them. The replica airsoft guns are meant for adults and young people who want to have fun without the dangers real guns. However, some critics say Airsoft guns are just as dangerous as real ones.
Airsoft guns were created in Hong Kong and Japan in the late 70's. Civilians there weren't allowed to own guns so manufacturers made some airsoft guns that looked just like them. Decades later, they're incredibly popular, especially with young people. And for some people, that's where the problem lies. Currently, an increasing number of states is cracking down on Airsoft guns. Critics have said the airsoft guns look too real. Advocates have said that reasoning is unfair.
A quick Google search generates story after story of children who have been arrested or killed after brandishing an Airsoft gun in public. Last December, a teenager in Texas was shot and killed by police after bringing an airsoft pellet gun to school and saying that it was a real one.
A similar incident happened in the Tri-State weeks ago.
"The man who pointed a replica [airsoft] handgun at a police officer and ended up losing his life," said Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig.
Chief Craig said the problem is easy access: the ability to buy airsoft pellet guns online and at local shops. All Airsoft guns must have six millimeter orange tips. Chief Craig said there are some positive uses for the airsoft pellet guns. About six months ago, Cincinnati police specialists bought several Airsoft guns to use in training.
However, on the other side of the issue, thousands, if not millions, of people worry their current easy access to the airsoft guns could soon change. Lawmakers in state after state have begun enacting laws prohibiting the sale and/or use of Airsoft guns.
Tri-state resident Terry Dull, 55, is one of those people.
Dull lives to attend airsoft events. The civil engineer spends days painting and staining his Airsoft guns. He makes them look as real as possible. He has several Airsoft guns, including an airsoft M4 and a Tommy gun. He started collecting real guns when he was 16. He started collecting Airsoft guns a few years ago.
Dull said there are thousands of veterans who participate in military simulation events, also called "Mil Sim". It's a fancy term for war re-enactments. Participants wear camouflage and can spend hours, if not days, at the events.
Dull said Airsoft guns also allow him to get in some extra practice at home.
"The other thing that I get to do that I can't do with my real guns is that I can do target shooting in my backyard," said Dull. "I'm a big believer in the right to keep and bear arms."
While Chief Craig believes in the second amendment, as well, he said there still needs to be more rules.
"I think there needs to be more regulation on it," said Chief Craig.
Dull disagrees. Dull said more laws aren't needed because potential buyers already must be at least 18 years old to buy an Airsoft gun.
Fox19 decided to put that to the test.
We sent a 14-year-old to two stores: one privately owned smaller airsoft store and one chain airsoft store. The cashier at the smaller store wouldn't sell the Airsoft gun to the teenager, but the juvenile was able to buy an Airsoft pistol at the chain store.
"Well, then they should not be allowed to sell air soft guns," Dull said.
But the chain store is legally allowed to do so.
Fox19 did not name the chain store because technically they didn't break any rules. We did contact them, asking solely for their store policy. A spokesperson emailed this, "We follow whatever local or state laws there are regarding this or any product."
According to the Ohio State Attorney General's office, there is no state law dealing with the sale or use of so called "air guns." It's up to city and town leaders. Columbus and Cleveland both have one ordinance each that forbids the use of "air guns" in public. Cincinnati municipal code classifies Airsoft guns as a "dangerous weapons." It prohibits using them in public, and selling them within 1,000 feet of a school, but nothing specifically addresses the age of a buyer. Fox19 called at least a dozen city leaders, and discovered the same thing.
Chief Craig said that is a deadly loophole.
"Those types of weapons that look like real guns pose a threat; A threat to public safety," said Chief Craig. "We know that individuals have gone out and committed street robberies using them. We know instances where those have been used in confrontations with police."
Dull said more young people are buying the airsoft guns, but the problem isn't access.
"The thing that is really the problem is education," said Dull.
"Parents need to take the responsibility of informing their children on the proper use of these air soft guns," said Dull. "Don't take them to school. Treat them like they're loaded."