According to Journal & Courier archives in Lafayette, IN, three armed robberies in the past two months have been holdups using BB guns.
“We do see that a lot, and these aren’t the BB guns with the orange tip, the Red Riders that we all grew up with,” Lt. Brian Gossard said. “They’re modeled after real firearms, so you put them side by side and, without picking one up, it’s sometimes impossible to tell which one is real and which is fake.”
Arlington police Lt. Christopher Cook said that between March and August, nearly 20 percent of weapons seized by his police force after being used in crimes turned out to be lookalikes.
Cook said so far, police haven’t had to use deadly force, but that could change in an instant.
“There’s no training in the world that we know of where an officer can readily distinguish a real gun from a fake gun,” he said. “That’s not realistic, because officers have to make split-second decisions to ascertain whether it’s a firearm or not.”
Research conducted by the Associated Press found at least 25 deaths involving lookalike guns mistaken by police for actual firearms across the country in the last two decades, dating to the 1994 officer-involved shooting of a 13-year-old in New York City.
This disturbing trend isn’t only happening in America, either. Police in Edmonton, Canada, said fake guns were involved in 1,598 incidents in 2015 — that’s up 38 percent from 2014.
“It’s horrible, it’s horrible, when these kids are displaying these firearms and a life is lost, and after the fact it turns out it’s not real,” said Allentown, Pennsylvania, police Capt. Richard London.
But he added it can be nearly impossible to tell a BB gun or an air pistol from a real gun that shoots real bullets.
“It’s human nature to defend yourself in the face of that,” he said.
No law enforcement officer wants to have to use deadly force to defend themselves on the job, but Lt. Brian Gossard says the consequences criminals face when using a fake gun has the potential of trickling down to the officer responding to the crime.
“That’s our biggest fear. We don’t want to be put in that situation — real or fake,” he said. “But to find out later that it was a fake gun — I can’t imagine how the officer feels.”
Yestrebsky said all parents have an obligation to educate their children on gun safety and to convey the potential risks of misusing such toys.
“If you’re going to buy your son and daughter any kind of replica weapon, have a talk with them … so they understand (the dangers),” he said.
Yet another reason gun safety and the repercussions of misusing firearms should be taught at an early age: in schools and at home.