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Soft guns not always so soft

By Sarah Doty

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

They can be a fun toy, or a painful weapon, but that hasn’t stopped air soft guns from becoming very popular in the last few years.

This year alone, several incidents involving air soft guns have been reported in Mower County. In June, a Sargeant man was required to do 100 hours of community service or pay $500 after he shot his two children with an air soft gun in January to "teach them a lesson." In May, two reports involving several teenagers were also filed after they shot at neighbors, or out car windows as they were driving.

It is a growing trend, and for local law enforcement it is a growing frustration.

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"In a lot of cases, (air soft guns) are a pain in the neck to deal with because they aren’t considered to be a dangerous weapon, but they are capable of doing injury," said Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi.

Austin Chief of Police Paul Philipp took it a step further, saying that the resemblance of the air soft guns to real weapons "creates a certain concern for police officers."

Air soft guns are plastic guns that look very similar to real weapons, and shoot plastic BBs using compressed air.

Weapons that look similar to real ones are required to have orange tips, however, Philipp says that some air soft guns are available without that tip, which can be a big problem in low light, and during intense and difficult situations.

"Officers have fractions of a second to respond and make decisions, and it’s a very difficult thing when you run into those toys that really look like the real thing," he said.

Another difficulty with air soft guns is the lack of regulation they have because they aren’t considered "dangerous."

"There isn’t a whole lot we can do," said Amazi. "The name air soft is really misleading; especially to kids. They see air soft and they think it can’t do any injury. They aren’t considered to be a dangerous weapon, but they are capable of doing injury."

While there aren’t regulations pertaining exactly to the air-soft guns, Philipp said that there is a city ordinance which "technically prohibits pellet or air guns from being shot in the city."

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Amazi added that in some cases, other statute violations can be cause for charges.

For instance, if an air soft gun was used in the commission of a crime, a person could be charged the same as they would if they had used a real weapon. The Sargeant man was charged with two felony counts of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and lesser charges of malicious punishment of a child and domestic assault.

Philipp made it clear that he isn’t against air soft guns in the right setting. His department even uses them for training purposes because they are safer to train with and look real.

"I am not saying people can’t have those," he said, "or enjoy playing with it. But it has to be done under proper supervision and in the right setting."

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