Pellet Guns Pose Problems for Schools
Tuesday, December 19, 2006; 3:06 PM
MINNEAPOLIS -- Popular new pellet guns that look remarkably like lethal weapons have gotten at least one teenager killed in Florida and caused scares at schools around the country in recent months.
The guns are used to play a military-style game called airsoft, which is similar to paintball but cheaper and less messy, because the weapons fire plastic pellets instead of paint capsules that burst on impact.
Airsoft guns, though, are prized for their realistic design. Some resemble Glock, Smith & Wesson, Magnum and Beretta handguns and Kalashnikov assault rifles.
"The replicas really don't give our police officers time to think about `Is this, or is this not, an airsoft weapon?'" said Tom Walsh, a spokesman for police in St. Paul, where a politician wants to tighten an ordinance to cover airsoft guns.
Toy guns _ airsoft guns included _ are required under federal law to have a bright orange tip to distinguish them from real weapons. But some people remove or blacken the tips.
That was the case last January in Seminole County, Fla., where 15-year-old Christopher Penley was shot to death by a SWAT officer while brandishing an airsoft pistol at a school. The muzzle of the 9mm-lookalike had been painted black.
"These replica firearms pose a problem not only for law enforcement, but I think the community as a whole," Chief Sheriff's Deputy Steven Harriett said Tuesday. "It's certainly a very difficult situation for a law enforcement officer to process whether or not they're facing an assailant who is clearly armed with a firearm that could cause harm to them, when these manufacturers make them so realistic."
Minnesota law already makes it a crime to have a fake gun on school property. St. Paul City Councilman Lee Helgen is calling for ordinance that would bar the carrying of replica guns in public.
Some other local governments are moving in the same direction.
After a 14-year-old boy with a BB gun was shot and wounded by police in Chicago over the summer, the City Council banned BB and pellet guns. And officials in Beaverton, Ore., are considering a ban on airsoft guns.
Gabe Stitzel, president and owner of the Minnesota Airsoft Association, said airsoft guns need to be handled with care by teenagers, and parents should get involved.
"Airsoft guns aren't toys. They really shouldn't be treated like that. They should be treated with the same respect as a real firearm," he said.