BB gun growing in crime usage; Realistic look, lesser penalty

By Scott J. Croteau
Telegram & Gazette

An armed robber sent an employee at Golden Pizza on Main Street fleeing into the back room a couple of weeks ago.

The robber pulled out a silver handgun when he entered the 1168 Main St. pizza parlor in the early morning of Jan. 18. It looked real enough to scare the employee, as the gunman brandished it in what turned out to be a failed armed robbery.

Police say they have seen more armed robberies with BB guns over the past year. BB guns modeled after real firearms have been used effectively in robberies, and are also being used by known felons for intimidating others.

"They look so authentic," police spokesman Sgt. Kerry F. Hazelhurst said. "Some resemble a 9 mm right down to the buttons, pins and slide releases. They are so detailed, it is wrong."

Police arrested Gary R. Carlson, 45, of 236 Clover St., for the attempted robbery at Golden Pizza. He was arraigned on charges of attempting to commit a crime (armed robbery with a firearm while masked) in Central District Court, held on $2,500 cash bail and his case was continued to Feb. 20.

Police said the gun used was a BB gun.

The increase in BB guns used in crimes or being carried by felons prompted Police Chief Gary J. Gemme and Detective Capt. Edward J. McGinn to seek assistance from the city's Law Department to craft an ordinance against carrying BB guns under certain circumstances.

The proposal, sent to the Law Department in August, asks for their assistance in "exploring, developing and enacting a new city ordinance, which is designed to criminalize the possession, carrying and transporting of certain BB, pellet and replica handguns under certain conditions."

The proposal asked the ordinance to be structured to allow immediate warrantless arrests of people found in violation of the proposed regulation.

City Solicitor David M. Moore said the Law Department is reviewing the proposal and will advise the chief accordingly.

"Some people legitimately have BB guns," Capt. McGinn said. It is those who carry them for other reasons that concern police.

"There have been countless more instances where criminal investigations and field police actions have encountered these BB, pellet and replica handguns being possessed, carried or transported by actual or potential criminal actors, though the subject may not have been actually engaged in a crime at that very moment," the proposal reads.

There is little regulation on BB guns and similar guns, Capt. McGinn said. Someone can purchase those types of guns anonymously over-the-counter if they are over the age of 18. If someone underage is found with a BB or pellet gun, police can confiscate it, but with adults they can't do anything, police said. The city requires children younger than 18 to have a sporting or target license along with a permit from the police chief to own a BB gun.

Capt. McGinn said there are some situations involving someone carrying a BB gun or pellet gun that raise suspicions.

"There is very little regulation on someone walking down the street with it tucked in their pants at 2'oclock in the morning," he said.

The accessibility of the BB and pellet-type guns has allowed them to be in the hands of gang members, people involved in the drug trade and people who would not be allowed to carry a traditional firearm through a Firearm Identification card or license to carry, police said.

In some cases, people are using the realistic-looking BB or pellet guns to intimidate others, Capt. McGinn said. That could result in a serious situation, he said.

"If someone pointed one of those at someone who has a real gun, they might get killed. God forbid someone pulled one out on a police officer."

An officer has very little time to determine if a BB or pellet gun is real, Sgt. Hazelhurst said.

"It would be a heartbreaking situation if someone pulled out a BB gun and threatened a police officer, and that officer, thinking it was a real gun, shot and killed or wounded that person," Capt. McGinn said.

"That is a worst-case scenario for a cop," Sgt. Hazelhurst said.

Convicted felons are not allowed to carry a firearm, and police believe they are carrying the very real looking BB, pellet or replica guns to commit robberies or use to intimidate others.

Since the felons are not carrying a real gun, they get around a very strict federal law that forbids felons from carrying firearms. People violating the law face a lengthy sentence if convicted.

"We are on top of the drug and gang people," Capt. McGinn said, "... consequently they are getting searched when justified. They don't want to get caught carrying a real gun."

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