A mother recently gave police a handgun that her 11-year-old son had waved threateningly at other children. The Kansas City Star says that when officers compared the boy’s gun to one of their own, the likenesses were astounding. Similar in size, shape and weight, both guns had an operating safety, removable clip and working slide. The only obvious difference was that, instead of bullets, the boy’s airsoft handgun fired oversized plastic BBs. “Ask people which one of these (guns) is real,” Officer Phil Goff said, “and I bet they’ll get it wrong.”
Police, parents, and school officials worry that these increasingly popular fake guns could cause real tragedies. Not only can an airsoft gun’s plastic pellets harm people’s eyes, but the gun’s realism endangers anyone who brandishes one in public, police said.
The replicas are a rage across America among boys in fifth through eighth grades. Airsoft means the guns are powered by air and fire plastic 6 mm BBs, which are larger and softer than metal BBs. They can penetrate an eye, damage an eardrum or chip a tooth, which is why people who play war games with them wear protective goggles and follow safety rules, including minimum shooting distances.
U.S. interest was spurred by paintball-game enthusiasts, some of whom have switched to playing with airsoft rifles, shotguns and handguns. The guns – commonly used as props on Hollywood movie sets – are patterned after real weapons, ranging from Glock semiautomatic pistols to Uzi submachine guns and M-16 assault rifles. They cost from $5 to $900 or more. Pistols favored by local youths typically sell for $29, which includes a target and ammunition.
Leawood, Ks., Police Maj. Craig Hill recommends that parents and confiscate the guns from their children. “There is no reason for a child to have anything like that,” said Hill, who added that it’s illegal to possess or shoot any type of pellet or air gun in Leawood.
California lawmakers last year banned the sale of airsoft guns to anyone under 18. In New Jersey, lawmakers debated a ban on the sale or possession of the guns. The bill failed, but supporters pledge to push it again this year.