Salisbury Township--Realistic fake guns a challenge for police in traffic stops
Salisbury Township Chief of Police Allen W. Stiles stepped to the table and opened a green satchel, put two semi-automatic handguns on the table and held the third pistol aloft.
The eyes of the Salisbury Township Board of Commissioners widened and some officials shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.
Not to worry. As real as the guns appeared to be, they were fake.
Yet for Salisbury and other police officers, it is a worry.
And that was Chief Stiles’ point during his report to commissioners at the Jan. 12 township meeting.
It’s bad enough that police have to face real guns, much less realistic-looking fake guns.
“Coming up on something like this,” Stiles said, displaying the fake gun, ”we don’t now what to expect.”
The guns, and many more like them, were confiscated during routine traffic stops in the township by Salisbury police.
After his presentation, Stiles was asked by a reporter for Salisbury Press, why someone might carry or display a fake gun.
Stiles explained that the person could be trying to intimidate another person, such as during a drug deal, or the fake gun could be used in a robbery or holdup of a business.
In some instances, Stiles said, the fake guns were laying on seats or the console of a vehicle stopped by township police. Some of the fake guns were found in vehicles where illegal drugs were also found during police stops.
The guns that Stiles displayed at the meeting are known as airsoft guns. The guns shoot 6mm round plastic pellets. A gun can be operated manually with a spring-loaded air pump, or compressed gas or electric motor.
Airsoft guns are typically exact copies of actual guns. Some manufacturers use the mold of the original to replicate the look, feel and weight of the steel counterpart.
“If somebody saw that, what would you do?” Commissioner Debra Brinton asked.
Stiles didn’t have an easy answer, but indicated that “a split second decision can mean the death of a suspect or a police officer.”
Said Stiles to township officials and audience, “I just wanted to show you what we deal with” out on our patrols day in and day out.
“We have more,” said Stiles of the fake guns. It’s estimated that 15 fake guns were confiscated by township police during the past four months.
A toy airsoft handgun typically has an orange-colored cap, ring or marking at the front of the gun barrel. However, the distinctive marking is often removed or painted over, making a fake gun look all but indistinguishable from a real gun. Factor in traffic stops at night and identifying a fake gun from a real gun gets even more problematic.
Also, if a fake gun is pulled or brandished at a distance, it’s difficult to determine that it’s not a real gun.
“That’s our concern,” Stiles said after the meeting, “that somebody will do that.
“We certainly don’t want to shoot somebody,” Stiles said.
Stiles said he brought the matter to the attention of commissioners and the public to educate them not only about some of the challenges faced by police, but also the danger that a citizen might place his or herself in when carrying a realistic-looking fake gun.
Airsoft pistols are available in a variety of designs and brands, including Fire Power .45, Crosman Stinger, Taurus Millennium, and Daisy Powerline. Airsoft pistols can range in price from $6 to $95. There are also replicas of rifles, submachine guns and hand grenades.
The sport of airsoft is said to have begun in Japan during the early 1980s when it was illegal to own firearms there. In the United States, clubs and athletic associations hold skirmishes, some with more than 2,000 participating.
Protective eye wear is recommended for airsoft players. At close range, the pellets can crack teeth.
Airsoft guns are also used in training, including by the Salisbury Police Department.
There have been at least five incidents in recent years in the United States where the holder of an airsoft gun was shot and killed by law enforcement officers who thought the guns being brandished were real.
Tamir Rice, 12, who had an airsoft gun, was shot and killed by police Nov. 22, 2014, in Cleveland, Ohio. Police said the orange tip had been removed from the toy gun that Rice had.