Consumers, police officers, and even some gun-rights advocates say popular “soft air”-style replica air guns resemble some real and dangerous weapons, like high-powered handguns and assault rifles, the Chicago Tribune reports. That puts kids who play with them in danger. “It’s inevitable that an officer is going to shoot a juvenile or someone else [who is seen] with one of these guns,” said Lombard, Il., Police Chief Ray Byrne. It almost happened in Naperville, Il., this summer when a 14-year-old running from police pointed a lookalike .45-caliber pistol at an officer.
The “soft air” guns shoot a stinging but non-lethal plastic BB and are sold for as little as $25 at sporting goods stores, gun shops, and online. Unlike pellet and BB guns, which shoot metal projectiles at higher speeds and are known to cause injuries, the main concern about the “soft-air” guns is their resemblance to real weapons. Gun companies have licensed replica guns but generally as BB and pellet guns, which are regulated under state laws that restrict the purchase of even the least powerful pistols and rifles. Unlike California or New York, where toy guns must be made of clear or brightly colored plastic, Illinois follows less restrictive federal laws that require only a blaze orange plug permanently attached to the barrel. Police and consumer advocates say this safety measure is easily removed or simply painted black.