Police increasingly are facing off against people with real-looking pellet guns, toy weapons and non-functioning replicas, the Washington Post reports. Such encounters have led police to shoot and kill at least 86 people over the past two years. The Post says its analysis is the first accounting of fatal police shootings involving people armed with air guns, toys or replicas, a phenomenon studied in depth more than 25 years ago, when Congress sought to address the problem of police shootings involving toy guns. The 86 shooting deaths are among the nearly 2,000 people shot and killed by police since 2015. Almost all of the weapons recovered had one thing in common: They were highly realistic copies of firearms. Of those, 53 were pneumatic BB or pellet guns that fire small-caliber metal balls or pellets. An additional 16 were Airsoft guns, which use compressed air cartridges to fire plastic BBs.
Thirteen were replicas, two were toys, one was a starter pistol and one was a lighter. Consumer demand for replica firearms has grown. “They are red hot,” said Tom Gaylord, who runs a blog for the Ohio-based Pyramyd Air, a large air gun retailer. Police say it is virtually impossible to train officers to identify imitation firearms from any distance. Short of eliminating the guns, police have little choice but to assume the guns are lethal. Efforts to stop production of the guns or radically alter their appearance have mostly failed because of resistance from gunmakers and gun rights groups, such as the National Rifle Association. “We’re talking about this 26 years later, and I’m not sure anything has really changed except that tragic occurrences continue to happen,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, which studied the issue in 1990 for Congress. “A toy gun in a country with 300 million real guns is hard to distinguish.”