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If a law enforcement officer believes a gun is for real, then the law enforcement officer will likely treat that weapon as being real, city leaders say.
The best way to avoid an incident, they advise, is to practice safety measures as if the airsoft toy weapon is a real gun.
“I would advise these airsoft enthusiasts to treat this toy — since that is how the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) categorizes them — as a real gun,” Wapakoneta Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier Jr. said Wednesday during a Health and Safety Committee meeting. “I would not carry them in the open, so carry them as you would a real weapon. These are toys that look realistic, they have similar weight as a real weapon and they function like a real weapon.
“I think education would be the No. 1 message we want to get out to airsoft firearm, or toy, enthusiasts because this is a more powerful, jazzed up BB gun,” the Health and Safety Committee chair said. “In response to the California incident where a youth was shot and killed, if an officer tells you to drop something whether it is a real gun, an airsoft gun, a baseball bat then drop it.”
Wapakoneta High School eighth-grader Rob Laney attended Wednesday’s committee meeting at the request of Finkelmeier to discuss the issue. The 14-year-old, who addressed council on the airsoft guns and the potential problems with law enforcement officers at the Feb. 6 meeting, offered to develop a pamphlet or flyer outlining airsoft safety tips with Wapakoneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock.
“A pamphlet is a good idea because instead of having only an educational day we can hand out the pamphlet throughout the year to educate them about airsoft gun safety,” Laney said. “I agree with the tips they provided because nowadays you can paint the ends of the gun or get a suppressor on them and officers will not be able to tell the difference. They have the same weight and look as a regular handgun or weapon so it is nearly impossible for them to tell the difference.”
Laney favored Hunlock’s suggestion of a possible safety training day at the city’s firing range or at a shooting range outside the city as a way to get the word out and for youth to work with police officers.
Laney and Hunlock said they may contact members of the Moulton Gun Club, who already have a safety day scheduled for June, to help with creating a day for young airsoft enthusiasts to review firearm and toy gun safety tips and to fire the airsoft guns.
Hunlock and Laney agreed the safety training day would be ideal to pass out the pamphlet. Finkelmeier supported the ideas.
“There is nothing better for firearm safety than training and in my experience any law enforcement officer I have ever met is more than willing to discuss firearm safety and in most cases they also are firearm enthusiast,” Finkelmeier said. “They want you to know how to use them safely to protect yourself and others.”
Councilor-at-large Steve Walter stressed safe transport of the airsoft guns by keeping them in a case or out of view, not only to avoid problems with law enforcement officers but to avoid problems with the public.
“Since these look real, everybody else will have to treat it as if it was a real gun because I would not expect them to wait around and find out,” Walter said. “Given that, I would expect the public and law enforcement officers to respond and treat it as if it were a real gun.”
Hunlock explained firing an airsoft gun within the city limits is prohibited by ordinance. The ordinance, crafted in 1974, covers BB guns and other weapons that shoot a projectile.
He also said a person carrying an airsoft gun could create unnecessary alarm or inciting panic, which is another crime.
Finkelmeier closed the meeting noting the committee need not make any recommendation to council because an ordinance already exists in the city’s code book.
But he did have a recommendation for airsoft gun enthusiasts.
“Practice safety, safety safety,” Finkelmeier said. “Even though the federal government views this as a toy, you need to respect it as if it was a real firearm.”
He also outlined some tips regarding the toy weapon.
“Don’t display it, don’t carry it openly in public where people might mistake it for a real gun, especially in light of the recent tragedy in our our home state,” Finkelmeier said. “Don’t carry it in a place where the average person, the public, might think is this a kid on his way to do some harm.
“Those who are airsoft enthusiasts must be cognizant of the fact this might be mistaken as an actual weapon and a member of the public might call the police and thus create unnecessary alarm or panic,” he said. “Our message is one of personal responsibility.”