Not a toy: Pellet guns should be considered dangerous weapons

Posted: Friday, November 29, 2002

Parents might want to think twice before running out to get that special Daisy Powerline Airstrike 240 Pistol pellet gun for their teen this Christmas.

The pellet gun so closely resembles a brushed-silver, semi-automatic pistol, it has law enforcement officials worried.

In fact, an incident involving one of the pellet guns earlier this month in Soldotna resulted in criminal charges being filed against a 15-year-old boy.

Soldotna police received a report from Soldotna High School that a student from Soldotna Middle School had been threatened with a pistol.

An investigation showed the 13-year-old student was walking between the two schools when a group of four teen-age boys approached him.

One allegedly had a brushed silver pistol in his hand, pointed it at the 13-year-old and threatened him. The four older boys then walked away.

Police investigators recovered the pistol at the home of one of the teens, and the one who had pointed the gun was arrested for third-degree assault.

Formal charges have been referred to the Division of Juvenile Justice, which is prohibited from discussing the exact nature of the charges in a juvenile matter.

The pistol turned out to be a brushed-silver .24 caliber air pistol -- a pellet gun.

"If one of my officers had rounded the corner when the juvenile was pointing the gun at the other one, the officer would have been justified in using deadly force," said Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Gifford.

The chief was so concerned by the incident at first, she considered attempting to initiate legislation banning the sale of the pellet gun.

After discussing the issue with the police department's Citizen Advisory Group, however, she found that some thought the manufacture of the gun should be stopped, but others believed sufficient laws are in place to deal with the misuse of pellet guns.

"The schools also have a policy not allowing students to bring pellet guns to school," Gifford said.

"Parents need to treat them like any other weapon," she said. "Keep them unloaded, use them only for target shooting and use them with parents' supervision."

Gifford said the Daisy pellet guns are so similar to real semi-automatic pistols, "You can't tell the difference from afar. You can't tell the difference up close."

When contacted about the pellet gun, Joe Murfin, director of marketing for Daisy Outdoor Products, manufacturer of the Powerline pistol, said, "It is a gun. It's not a toy."

"Air guns are guns," Murfin said.

"Depending on the model, they can have a high velocity, they can injure someone and they can cause death."

When used properly, the pellet guns -- which are designed to resemble the real thing in look, feel and weight -- are used to teach people marksmanship, Murfin said.

Some of the benefits of learning to shoot by using a pellet gun rather than a real gun include the ease of finding a place, such as a back yard or basement, in which to shoot and the low cost of ammunition.

"It's inappropriate to take the pistol to school, to the store or to a bank," Murfin said.

And, he noted the Powerline pistols are packaged with a warning label on the outside saying, "Danger: Not a toy. Adult supervision required. Misuse or careless use may cause serious injury or death. May be dangerous up to 240 yards. For ages 16 years or older."

Murfin said the warning is also stamped into the receiver area of the pistols.

Although the pellet guns are readily available for about $20 over the Internet, Kenai Peninsula stores including Big Kmart and Fred Meyer sell pellet guns only to persons 18 years old or older. Those stores carry Crossman brand pellet guns, not Daisy.

Don's Hobby Shop in Soldotna does not sell Crossman or Daisy pellet guns, but does sell plastic-pellet shooting Air Soft guns that also look like real guns.

Shop owner Don Hamilton said the toy guns are made to resemble everything from 9mm Glock pistols to .45-caliber automatics.

"The manufacturer paints the end of the barrel orange, so they won't be mistaken," Hamilton said. "But, it wouldn't take much to change that with a little black paint."

He said his store will not sell the Air Soft guns, which can cost up to $150, to anyone under 16 unless accompanied by a parent.

Daisy's Murfin said several municipalities with high population densities have municipal codes banning the use of air-powered pellet guns.

"To put it in positive terms, 34 states have no restrictions on the sale of air guns," he said.

He also said 12 states prohibit the sale of the pellet guns or giving them as gifts to minors, while four states and the District of Columbia have specific laws for the use of air guns and restrictions for the sale of them.

"Washington, D.C., considers air guns dangerous weapons," he said.

"In New York, sales are not allowed in Buffalo, Long Island or New York City, and sales are not allowed in Chicago or its suburb of Morton Grove," said Murfin.

"What it boils down to, though, is people using inappropriate behavior or poor judgment," he said.

"Their safe use must be the responsibility of the user and of the parents," said Murfin.

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