When sheriff’s deputies in Orlando made arrests in the recent armed robbery of a cell-phone store, one suspect knew he would avoid a harsh penalty, says the Orlando Sentinel. The man told deputies they couldn’t charge him with robbery with a firearm — a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison — because the weapon he used was a BB gun. Under Florida law, so-called “hoax guns” — which include BB, soft-air, string, and paint guns — aren’t considered firearms. The loophole presents a challenge to law officials and an opportunity for criminals.
Says Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary: “A robbery is a robbery, and when you use devices like this, it ought to be a first-degree robbery.” Proposed state legislation would define fake guns as deadly weapons if they are used to commit crimes. “For a person being robbed, for them it’s not a replica, it’s a real gun,” said Florida Sheriff’s Association lobbyist Frank Messersmith. “They go through the same stress and tension as someone who’s a victim of a real gun.”