Replica gun hazards prompt discussion over regulations

Replica firearms look so authentic that police plan to discuss regulations into their sale, because of the dangers created when they're mistaken for the real thing.

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to discuss replica gun regulations

Can you tell which is real and which is a replica? On the bottom is a hybrid Smith and Wesson/Colt Python. The gun on top is a replica. Recent incidents involving replica guns is prompting discussion over whether they should be regulated. (James Hees/CBC)

Replica firearms look so authentic that police plan to discuss regulations into their sale, because of the dangers created when they're mistaken for the real thing.

On Sunday, more than 40 Edmonton police officers were called to a gun complaint near a south end school. The “gunman” turned out to be a teenager with a fake firearm who was playing a game near the school.

The next day, RCMP in Redcliff shot a man who allegedly pointed a gun at officers. The weapon turned out to be a Smith & Wesson BB gun. The man remains in hospital in critical but stable condition. The incident is being investigated by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).

Sgt. Steve Sharpe of the Edmonton Police Service says any gun complaint calls must be treated seriously.

He wants more regulations on the sale of replica firearms.

“Regardless of your age, you can go in and purchase these,” he said. “There is nothing criminal that we can do to prevent that from happening.”

For its part, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police says it will discuss the issue of replica guns at its meeting in January.

'Cops and robbers' with replica guns

While replicas can be used to commit robberies and other crimes, they are also used in airsoft games — a combat activity much like paintball.

Unlike paintball, airsoft guns shoot pellets and appear more authentic.

Avid "airsofter" Chris Anderson, 32, says the games are like living out the scenario of a video game.

“Most of the guns that you can buy on the market today are pretty much one for one with the real steel weapons that you can get,” he said.

“It’s the gear, and being able to go out and play cops and robbers. Or bad guys against good guys … you’re able to take that experience and actually put it into real life.”

But airsoft gun sellers don’t believe the answer is more regulation.
Gordon McGowan, president of MilArm, holds a replica gun and a real gun. Most people would not be able to tell the difference, he says. (CBC )

Josh Reashore, chairman of the Alberta Airsoft Retailers Association, believes increased education and a clarification of current rules would be more effective. 

“The current collection is a mishmash of competing documents that’s been assembled over the past couple of years,” he said. “Currently, you have to look at four or five documents to determine whether an airsoft gun is legal to own.”

Gordon McGowan, president of the MilArm firearms store in Edmonton, said there should be controls to monitor who purchases replica pistols — and why they are using them. 

"It's kind of traitorous to my industry to suggest that we should have some sort of regulations or controls on them, but I think we should," McGowan said.

"I think you would want to see somebody of the age of consent being able to purchase these. They should be limited to the airsoft field … it's not something you're going to casually take out and practise with." 

In the United States, some cities have either passed or are considering their own restrictions on the sale of replica firearms.

Sharpe believes such measures are ineffective — someone could bypass a bylaw banning the sale of replicas in Edmonton by going to another jurisdiction where they're allowed.

He believes the federal government should step in.


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