As airsoft guns have become more popular, it is not unusual to see headlines telling of police shooting an “unarmed” man who was carrying one of these “fake” guns. In response, police departments have begun warning the public about the dangers associated with carrying replica guns around in public. But how do you tell the difference between real guns and airsoft guns?
In a related report by the Inquisitr, recently San Francisco police gunned down a man carrying a pellet gun. A Texas teen was arrested for “terrorist threats” when he posted a photo of himself on Twitter pointing an airsoft gun at a Fort Worth police cruiser.
As an avid airsoft player, I can attest personally to the problems associated with owning a small arsenal of replica machine guns that can shoot 6mm plastic BBs. They may not be a “public menace,” but they certainly can lead to life and death situations if one is not careful.
In the months following 9-11, I was playing a night game of airsoft in a park with a group of about 10 men when a concerned citizen called police after seeing someone carrying a rifle. Next thing we knew, we had a police helicopter overhead and squad cars surrounding us. I told the guys to drop their guns, raise their hands in the air, and let the police officers come to us. After the misunderstanding was cleared up, the police left us in peace without any charges filed or accidental shootings.
Not everyone is so blessed. Working via Facebook, the Davis County Sheriff’s Office is working to raise awareness of airsoft guns and how people should respond when police officers come onto the scene.
“If you have these replica guns around your home please discuss the dangers of pointing them at people. If a deputy is giving you directions, do what they ask. Deputies have no choice but to treat a lifelike replica the same as a real gun. Their job is to keep the public and themselves safe from harm. It’s also known that real guns are being made to look like toys which can cause confusion. It is unfortunate that individuals choose to put law enforcement officers in a position which requires them to take action, and then be second guessed about their decision. I promise, our heart sinks when we get a call of ‘A man with a gun.’ Here’s the rules: Treat ALL guns as if they are ALWAYS loaded. NEVER point your weapon at anything you’re not willing to destroy. Keep your finger OFF the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Know your target and what is beyond it.”
The photo above illustrates how an airsoft gun can look exactly like the real counterpart from a distance. It’s a common misconception that an airsoft gun’s orange tip is required by federal law, but that simply is not the case. Part 272 of Title 15 of the Code of Federal Regulations on foreign commerce and trade stipulates that “no person shall manufacture, enter into commerce, ship, transport, or receive any toy, look-alike, or imitation firearm” without approved markings like an orange tip, but these restrictions do not apply to “traditional B-B, paint-ball, or pellet-firing air guns that expel a projectile through the force of compressed air, compressed gas or mechanical spring action, or any combination thereof.”
This means police officers cannot rely upon the orange tip as a reliable indicator. Some airsoft guns may appear exactly like real guns unless you happen to notice the odd-looking magazine or perhaps an air tank if they’re using high pressure air. The problems faced by police officers becomes even more clear when you consider that some real guns are manufactured to look almost like a toy.
So how to avoid problems? For airsoft guns without orange tips, stores sell airsoft barrel covers that should be left on when not playing. If you are carrying the airsoft gun in public, try to use a case or a backpack instead of carrying it out in the open. If ever confronted by a police officer, freeze in place and follow his or her directions exactly. Doing so may save a life: yours.