Saskatoon

Real versus fake: how replica guns can pose real problems

A youth facing weapons charges after a gun incident at a Regina high school has reignited the conversation about how replica guns can pose issues for police, victims and those accused of using them.

Police say replica firearms can complicate dangerous situations

Can you tell which is the real gun? The gun on the left is the pellet gun. The one on the right is the real gun. (CBC)

A frightening school lockdown in Regina last month that led to weapons charges against a 13-year-old girl has reignited the conversation about how replica weapons can pose a real threat. 

Regina police were called to F.W. Johnson Collegiate around 9:15 a.m. CST on Sept. 23 for a report that someone inside the high school had a gun. 

Police recovered an airsoft rifle believed to be the gun used in the incident and the teen, who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was later charged with assault with a weapon, carrying and possessing a weapon and using a gun while committing an indictable offence.

Regina police Chief Evan Bray said replica weapons pose a problem because they're difficult to discern from real weapons.

Those lead to "very real" consequences for both the accused and the people on the other end of the gun, he cautioned.

He said parents should educate their kids about the risks of using replica firearms.

"If you look at the situation that unfolded in the public school this past week the consequences were very real for families: they were absolutely grief-stricken, worried, upset … learning after the fact that it was an airsoft doesn't take away all of those feelings."

Roughly a dozen Regina police cruisers surrounded F.W. Johnson Collegiate in the city's east end on Sept. 23, after a gun incident at the school. (Adam Bent/CBC)

It is difficult for police officers, who often deal with weapons, to tell replicas and guns apart in photos or during intense and dangerous situations, Bray said, adding it's common for airsoft guns, which are easier to get than real guns, to be used in crimes in Regina.

About 171 of the 442 firearms seized by police in the city between Jan. 1 and  Aug. 31, fell under the "other" category, which includes firearms like airsoft, BB and pellet guns, a Regina police spokesperson told CBC in an email.

Realistic appearance

Replica guns can look very real, depending on modifications, and unlike real firearms people don't need a Possession and Acquisition Licence for them, Bray said.

"I can think of a situation that an airsoft was used to intimidate a person, of course they didn't know that it was an airsoft, and there was a retaliation that happened [in] a couple of days with serious consequences," Bray said.

Replica weapons and pellet guns have complicated police responses in other jurisdictions as well, sometimes leading to deaths

In an infamous Ohio case, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed in Cleveland while holding a toy gun in 2014.

A recent coroner's inquest into the death of a Nunavut man found he was wielding a toy gun when he was shot and killed in 2017.

27-year-old man with a pellet gun was shot dead in Toronto in May this year after reports of a man with a rifle led to the lockdown of several schools, according to a police watchdog.

John Meed, the secretary of Regina's Wascana Pistol Club, said he received his first airsoft weapon about 20 years ago. 

He agreed that airsoft guns should be treated like real guns.

Meed said they should be stored properly, probably away from the airsoft pellets, and kept out of the hands of children without adult supervision.

"It's like paintball, it's like pellet guns, BB guns, they have a niche, they have a purpose. If they're handled responsibly and safely, they shouldn't be a problem," Meed said.

"If they're handled irresponsibly or unsafely, well, people can get charged for that."

WATCH | Edmonton Police Service face issues with fake weapons 

Fake guns are a growing problem for EPS

6 years ago
Duration 0:46
Police say it's getting hard to tell the difference between replicas and the real thing - and that similarity can lead to fatal consequences.

He said some manufacturers will attach an orange end on the muzzle to differentiate the weapon from a lethal firearm.

"If you weren't familiar with firearms, you could mistake one for a real gun."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dayne Patterson is a reporter for CBC News in Saskatchewan and is based in Saskatoon. He has a master's degree in journalism with an interest in data reporting and Indigenous affairs. Reach him at dayne.patterson@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC's Jessie Anton

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