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Trendy Toy Guns Look So Real, They Even Fool Police

October 23, 2002
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Trendy Toy Guns Look So Real, They Even Fool Police

Parents Fear Look-Alikes May Spark Tragedy

By Scott Parks, Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service

PoliceOne notes that a number of incidents like the one in this news story have occured in the last year. All officers should familiarize themselves with the toy weapons described. To do so, please visit: airsoftguns.com.

DALLAS -- George Dunham didn't want to be a killjoy.

So he bought his 11-year-old son the hot toy for boys. Everyone in the neighborhood, it seemed, owned an airsoft pistol or rifle _ a realistic-looking replica that fires plastic projectiles about twice the size of traditional metal BBs.

Now Dunham and other parents are counting their blessings and reconsidering the wisdom of letting their sons run around their Coppell, Texas, neighborhood with real-looking toy guns.

"We could have had a tragedy on our hands," said Dunham, who co-hosts a sports radio show. "The possibilities are terrifying."

Here's what happened:

Coppell police Office Cayce Williams was on patrol at 2:30 p.m. one recent Monday. It was a day off school for students; teachers were working. The boys were home, but the rainy weather didn't hold them inside the house.

They donned their protective eyewear and went outside to play war games with their airsoft guns.

Officer Williams noticed one of the boys walking down the street. As he drove by in his patrol car, it looked as if the boy was trying to conceal something in his left hand, Officer Williams would report later that afternoon.

It looked like a handgun.

Officer Williams turned around, and the boy ran onto Pelican Lane. It took him about 300 yards to catch up to the boy, he said.

"The handgun was in his left hand and I drew my firearm and pointed at him as I exited my vehicle," Officer Williams wrote in his report.

The boy, listed as age 12, dropped his pistol on the ground and put up his hands. Amid tears, he explained that his gun wasn't real and shot only soft pellets.

Even up close, Officer Williams said, the pistol looked exactly like a Sig Sauer P228, a 9 mm handgun. A bright orange plastic tip on the end of the barrel _ a legal requirement for replica firearms _ was the only indication that it was a toy, he said.

"The gun had a detachable magazine, working slide and hammer," he said in his report. "It appeared to be real."

Other boys had run away when they spotted Officer Williams. They told their mothers what happened, and those moms rushed to the scene. Back-up police units, including a special-operations van, showed up.

Dunham, a morning talk show host on KTCK-AM (1310), was at home when his son ran into the house to report his friend's encounter with Officer Williams. Dunham said the incident shook him up and made him think. He talked at length about it on his Tuesday morning radio program.

"I'm really sorry and embarrassed," he said. "Police have enough on their hands. They don't need to be having to figure out what's a real gun and what's not."

Police declined to identify the 12-year-old boy who had stared into the barrel of Officer Williams' very real pistol. They turned him and his airsoft pistol over to his mother and filed no charges against him. Dunham said he and other parents confiscated the guns from their sons.


Sporting good stores and Internet retailers sell the airsoft replicas of real firearms. Many of them come from Europe and are sold under licensing agreements with firearms manufacturers that make the real thing.

The guns, sold under a variety of brand names, range in price from a spring-operated pistol for $ 20 to gas-powered automatic machine guns that sell for $ 350 to $ 400.

Lee Grubb Jr., a salesman for Academy Sports & Outdoors in Dallas, said the airsoft guns are gradually replacing traditional BB guns for two reasons: You can retrieve and reuse the brightly colored pellets, and customers think the plastic pellets are less likely to injure someone than metal BBs or pellets.

"This Christmas, they are going to be big," Grubb said.

Airsoft gun sellers say their products seem to appeal to the same people who engage in paintball war games.

Paintball guns have unique designs that don't resemble real firearms. But realism is a major selling point for airsoft guns.

Airsplat.com of Pasadena, Calif., touts its airsoft guns as "identical to their real counterparts," saying "they feel, look and act like the real thing."

Ash Chan, a customer service representative for the company, said airsoft gun enthusiasts fall into two major categories: boys who like BB guns, and older guys who attend organized war games that require realistic military attire and authentic-looking replicas of pistols, assault rifles and machine guns.

"I know parents have a tough time controlling their kids," Chan said. "But they should really discourage them from playing with these things out in public."

Dunham agrees.

"As popular as it is with your kids, you have to take a stand against it," he said.

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