Herald Journal, Feb. 20, 2006
Airsoft guns offer sport, but create challenges for law enforcement
By Dave Cox
On the red felt surface of the poker table in front of me was a collection of weapons.
Some were equipped with laser sights, and some with extra magazines that could hold up to 600 rounds of ammunition.
A few of the weapons could fire only one shot at a time, but most could be set to fire in semi-automatic mode, and some could be set to full-automatic, and would fire repeatedly as long as the trigger was held back.
I was not in a SWAT team briefing room, or in the bunker of some civilian militia group.
I was in the home of a Lester Prairie high school student.
The weapons were airsoft air guns.
The ammunition of choice is plastic BBs.
The students began collecting the weapons last year.
Beau Weise said his brother introduced him to the sport.
“He and his buddies at college get together, and sometimes there are 15 or 20 of them playing war games,” Weise said.
The students considered getting paint ball guns, but chose the airsoft guns because they are inexpensive and convenient.
The guns can be purchased for as little as $10 or $12.
Ammunition, in the form of plastic BBs, can be purchased for about $5 for a package of 5,000.
The students said this makes the air guns much cheaper than paintball.
They also like the guns because they do not require the cleaning of paint ball guns, and they do not have to worry about paint staining their clothes.
The airsoft guns are rechargeable, and have spring-loaded firing mechanisms.
This is cheaper and more convenient than products that use CO2 cylinders, and the airsoft guns fire at a lower velocity, so the BBs hurt less, the students said.
They do have some rules.
No one is allowed to use metal BBs, there is no aiming above the shoulders, and everyone wears eye protection.
The students are waiting for warm weather so they can take their war games outdoors. They said they will probably play in the woods where they can hide behind trees and other obstacles.
These students use the guns for fun and sporting games, but there is another side to the story.
Legally, air guns are weapons.
McLeod County District Court records show that 18-year old Jacob Newman of Lester Prairie was charged with a felony last October for an incident involving an air gun.
Newman was charged with possession of a dangerous weapon on school property, which carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and/or $5,000 fine; and furnishing an airgun to minors, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or $20,000 fine.
When asked about air guns, Lester Prairie Police Chief Bob Carlson said, “It is something we are dealing with.”
The Lester Prairie ordinance that applies to firearms also covers air guns.
Under the ordinance, the term “deadly weapon” includes all firearms.
The ordinance states “Firearms shall mean any device from which may be fired or ejected, one or more solid projectiles, by means of a cartridge or shell, or by the action of an explosive substance; or for which the propelling force is a spring, elastic band, carbon dioxide, air or other gas vapor.”
The definition of “deadly weapon” also includes, “All instruments used to propel a high-velocity pellet of any kind, including, but not limited to, air rifles and compressed air guns.”
The ordinance also prohibits concealment, discharge and use of deadly weapons within the City of Lester Prairie.
Selling or furnishing a deadly weapon to a minor under the age of 18 without the written consent of his parent or guardian is also prohibited.
“You can’t use anything that fires a projectile within the city limits,” Carlson said.
The low cost and realistic appearance of air guns has made the weapons attractive to some criminals.
A USA Today story reported that since July 2004, police in 11 states, including Minnesota, have recorded a total of more than 50 robberies involving BB guns.
The story also stated that in Ohio and Philadelphia, would-be robbers with BB guns were shot by people they were allegedly threatening.
USA Today also reported that in Minneapolis last may, police confiscated a BB pistol and arrested a 19-year-old man and 18-year-old man in connection with 22 late-night robberies of pedestrians in the uptown area.
The realistic appearance of the guns can pose special problems for law enforcement officials.
In Longwood, Fla., a sheriff’s deputy fatally shot 15-year-old Christopher Penley during a confrontation at his school. The youth pointed what appeared to be a Beretta pistol at officers; it turned out to be a pellet gun, according to the USA Today report.