By CARLA MEYER
Unzipping his baseball equipment bag in the Wapakoneta City Council chambers, a local teen pulls out a handgun and an assault rifle.
Councilors did not panic. The youth then explained a new hobby centered on airsoft guns. The replica guns have the weight, look and feel of an actual weapon.
The Wapakoneta High School eighth-grader stressed to councilors the need to develop a policy to ensure the welfare of the youngsters possessing these guns and the well-being of the city’s police officers.
On Monday, Rob Laney, 14, spoke of his concerns about transporting the life-like weapons through the city safely after teens in Texas and California were shot and killed. He understood this was not the officers’ fault because the teens refused to drop their airsoft guns, he said it was imperative to pursue a city policy to keep himself and his friends from succumbing to the same fate.
“I want to make sure that myself and other players are safe,” Laney said. “I also want to make city council and police aware these replica firearms are out there and that we want to be able to transport them out of the city legally to where we play in the country.
“I had read a couple of newspapers that reported kids being shot by police and I didn’t want this to happen to me or any of my friends who also play with replica airsoft weapons.”
At the center of the issue is the fact an airsoft gun is a replica firearm. While it does not shoot a bullet, it does shoot a small plastic BB pellet powered by electric or a propane-based gas, called green gas. These airsoft weapons can range from pistols to assault rifles to sniper rifles.
With this being Laney’s first time presenting an issue to city leaders, he discovered the experience to be a little intimidating.
“They had some pretty tough questions,” Laney said, “but they were very interested in the guns and the fact I was there asking for a policy to be developed for the airsoft gun users to follow and for the police officers to follow.”
A few questions Laney fielded from councilors were how loud the guns are, can the orange tips be removed, does the tip ever wear off and how they operate.
Councilors also expressed an interest if Laney and his friends shot targets or each other and the speed of the BBs, the types of BBs used and how hard they could shoot.
Depending on the feet-per-second (FPS) firing of the gun, they can shoot up to 500 feet and still sting a person.
A typical pistol can shoot approximately 345 fps and can be shot as fast as a person can pull the trigger.
An assault rifle, depending on the gun’s motor, can shoot for range and power while others are for speed. An assault rifle can shoot from 380 fps to 460 fps and they can shoot an average of 12 rounds per second.
A sniper rifle can range from 500 fps to 700 fps but can only shoot one round at a time because it is bolt action.
Laney’s topic spurred much discussion, especially after the meeting where he had an opportunity to talk one-on-one with councilors about the guns.
Councilors also shared their thoughts on the issue with him.
“One of them said if they have the orange tip, they are considered a toy so you could display them in public,” Laney said. “They are considered a toy and not a true firearm or weapon, but they also said I needed to be responsible when I transported them and when I took them out. I currently carry them in a baseball duffle bag.”
Wapakoneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock said when people transport airsoft guns, they should always make sure they are transporting it in some kind of case — whether it be a duffle bag, a hard case or a backpack.
“This is the most ideal way to transport them,” Hunlock said in a telephone interview. “Also, as they use these, they should keep them in the condition that they buy them in.”
He explained airsoft guns are considered illegal to use in the city limits, according to an ordinance stating that no person shall shoot, force or throw, by means of an air gun or other arm or implement, a lead, iron or other hard substance anywhere within the city.
Hunlock and his crew have come across issues in the past where these items, whether it be airsoft guns, BB guns or another type of play gun that have been modified or the orange tip taken off.
The police chief strongly suggested against modifying them and to never modify or remove the orange tips.
“When you do that it makes our jobs difficult,” Hunlock said, explaining that without the orange tip, law enforcement officers have difficulty distinguishing between a toy gun or a real weapon. “We need to take appropriate action, and this could be a dangerous situation.”
For Laney, the experience of researching and presenting a speech to council provided him with a valuable civics lesson.
Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier Jr., chair of the Health and Safety Committee, asked Laney to attend a future meeting to discuss this topic further. The meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Feb. 29.
Laney’s goal is for committee members and councilors to consider developing a policy or some protocol regarding the transportation of the weapon to where they play in the country outside of Wapakoneta so he and his friends and the police officers do not feel at any risk.
“I talked to my dad on the way home from the meeting and we discussed possibly developing a voluntary registration list at the police department so they know which teens have the airsoft guns and I could develop a pamphlet to hand out when they sign in regarding owning, operating and carrying an airsoft gun responsibly,” Laney said. “I don’t blame the police officers in these other communities because the kids would not surrender their weapons, but I don’t want an accident to happen and officer shoot one of my friends or myself.
“This would be a tragedy for the family and tough for the officer to have to deal with — all because we didn’t do something to prevent it,” he said.
Hunlock said that creating an voluntary registration is a proposal he would bring to his command staff and to do some additional research.
“This is not out of the realm of possibility,” Hunlock said. “It sounds like a fairly good idea.”
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