Dispatch: “22A, 23A to back, for a report of four dressed in camouflage with automatic weapons at
New Land Park”
Unit 22A: “22A, Code 3 from Broadway at 6th”
Unit 23A: “23A with 22, Code 3”
Unit 25B: “Center, 25B. I will also be responding until Code-4
K9 Unit: “K9-4, same traffic”
Dispatch: “20S, Center. Copy the Code-3 traffic?”
Sergeant: “20S, Affirm and I’ll be en route from the office”
Airsoft prides itself on realism over other action pursuit games; that’s one of the reasons we
enjoy it so much. We dress up like soldiers and tactical teams, paint our faces or put hoods on,
and we march off to “war” with our simulated weapons. It’s all fun and games until the cops show
Since 9/11, law enforcement everywhere is on a constant heightened alert to anything and
everything that could be a potential terrorist situation, whether foreign or domestic terrorism.
We get constant terror alerts that the public never hears about. Law enforcement officers put
themselves in harms way every day. They want to go home to their families and therefore are not
going to take any chances when it comes to something that could potentially kill them. Consider
the above scenario…
Do you think these five officers are racing, with lights and sirens, to the park thinking that
their call is just a couple of kids having a good time? NO! They are thinking of Columbine High
School, Ruby Ridge Idaho, North Hollywood B of A shootout, 9-11-01… As a peace officer, you
always think of the worst-case scenario and deal with it accordingly. The next traffic you would
likely hear is:
Unit 22A: “22 and 23, 10-97. 4 at gun point! Clear the air!”
Dispatch: “Copy, 4 at gun point. 10-3 for the units at New Land Park.”
Have you ever heard, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, it’s a duck”? Similarly, if it
looks like a gun, works like a gun, IT’S A GUN! The realism of airsoft that we all love and enjoy
is the exact thing that could get you killed in an encounter with law enforcement. A few cases in
Nov 04, Grand Rapids MI; 19 YO male playing with friends in the street is taken down at gunpoint
by responding officers after a call by a concerned neighbor. The male attempted to draw the GBB
from his waistband to show it wasn’t a real gun. The officer had the trigger half pulled when he
saw the orange tip. Saved by the orange; how many of you still have the orange on yours…? That
man almost died over a toy.
2003, Manhattan Beach, CA; officers respond to a report of a male on a school rooftop with a gun.
When confronted, the teen turned and fired on the officer with his airsoft gun. The officer drew
on the male but did not fire at the last moment, realizing it was a toy. Fortunately for the
teen, that cop was really on his toes! That officer had ample justification to shoot and kill
that teen, and it would have been ruled to be legal and within policy (though the officer would
have felt horrible).
Apr 05, Spokane, WA; a parolee with prior weapons convictions reaches for an airsoft gun during a
contact with police. The man is taken to the ground at gun point. Again, the officer had plenty
of justification to shoot.
01/02/03, Brooklyn, NY; a 17 YO is shot and killed after he pulled a pellet gun on an undercover
detective posing as a delivery driver. Ruled a good shoot. Though not airsoft, it’s relevant.
11/28/00, Los Angeles, CA; LAPD shot and killed a partygoer who brandished a rubber gun at
officers responding to a noise complaint. Again not Airsoft, but relevant. You may think that’s
a bad shoot, but when officers are at a call, severely outnumbered, in a city where they
frequently encounter armed conflict, would you have taken a chance?
Now you may say, “Why don’t they just look at the barrel, its painted bright orange.” Really
genius? Most people I know remove or paint over the orange for play. And given that most firearm
contacts happen in a split second, often in low light, I can guarantee you that the officer is
more concerned with his safety than with concentrating on the barrel of the gun presented at him.
Besides that fact, the federal government sent an officer safety bulletin to all agencies across
the US in early 2005 regarding orange tip barrels. This bulletin outlined an alarming trend where
criminals were painting, taping, or adding orange tips to the end of the barrels of real firearms
in an effort to catch officers off-guard, to kill or injure them. Even if the officer sees the
orange tip, he will treat it like real steal and you in possession of it accordingly.
It’s a given that most of the above examples involve an element of stupidity on the part of the
contacted person, but the news is littered with stories of airsofters being taken down at gun
point by officers all over the country, and we responsible players wonder why legislators, city
leaders and citizen groups are calling to ban airsoft.
“Have you heard? They are trying to ban Airsoft in California!” No, and I think I would have
since I’m a cop…
With all the talk as of late with regards to SB 1858 [see last issue’s Speak Freely] and such, I
thought I would toss my hat into the ring of discussion. First off, as discussed in the last
issue, SB 1858 does not ban airsoft, nor does 15 USC 5001, which governs the barrel marking of
airsoft and their relatives for manufacture, sales, shipping, receipt, and transporting. The
receipt and transportation are the only relative applications to the end user [you]. So why does
everybody want to ban Airsoft? Well…here are a few reasons:
Aurora, Colorado, 05/23/05; 12 YO male charged with assault and felony menacing [threatening]
after an altercation at a city park. Aurora PD has seized 10 airsoft guns in the last year from
Ann Arbor, Michigan, 07/09/04; Police called after a 17 YO male pointed and cocked an airsoft
revolver at a delivery driver. The teen was arrested for concealed carry of a firearm, felony
assault, and possession of a firearm by a minor.
Salinas, California, December 2004; a man and his teen nephew attempt a home invasion robbery
using airsoft guns. The resident, a known drug dealer, pulls a real firearm and fires on the pair
as they are leaving. The man is killed, the teen is wounded and later arrested.
Fox Point, Wisconsin, 07/17/05; a 15 YO male is arrested after walking down a city street carrying
Manhatten Beach, California, July 2005: on the 7th (same day as the London bombings) officers are
dispatched to a report of two men on the roof of a storage shed with rifles. Responding officers
believed they were planning on shooting children at the neighboring playground. An airsoft rifle
was taken, and it was determined that the pair were filming a home movie. Later that month an
officer stops a vehicle after witnessing an occupant fire from the rear window of the truck,
striking a pedestrian. The occupants were cited for assault, four airsoft guns and 5 bags of BBs
were seized. A few weeks later, a pedestrian was assaulted in another airsoft drive-by, suspects
Grand Rapids, Michigan, October 2004; SWAT officers and countless patrol officers respond to a
school after a passerby reports seeing a male enter with a rifle. After a school lockdown a brief
investigation recovered an airsoft rifle, and a student is expelled and arrested. Grand Rapids
has seized 56 airsoft guns as a result of law enforcement contacts.
Media reports that students have also been charged and expelled after bringing airsoft guns on
campus in Greenville, MI, San Diego, CA, Spokane, WA, and Colorado Springs, CO.
The fear of guns and gun violence in our country increases every year with the increase in gangs
and terrorism. The public and law enforcement are both on edge. Nobody wants to see their
friends or loved ones harmed, and cops don’t want it to happen on their watch. The worse thing a
cop can imagine is to shoot and kill someone armed only with a toy, and nothing pisses a cop off
like wasting his time.
Each of the incidents described above were a close call. Law enforcement considers each such
event in their community as a serious problem. Each call to one of these incidents involves a
threat to pubic safety by the officer response and in their unavailability to respond to more
serious activities. Not to mention that each call to a possible shooter at a school invokes a
massive response resulting in a hit to that department’s budget costing in the tens of thousands
of dollars… for a toy gun.
These listed incidents, and those like them, have spawned legal reactions of their own. Manhattan
Beach requires a permit to shoot your airsoft gun inside the city limits. Brookfield, WI made it
illegal to fire within their city limits. Washtenaw County prosecutors (Ann Arbor) charge any
offense with airsoft guns as though they were a real firearm. And in case you didn’t know, any
court ruling can be used as a precedent to do the same in any court in America.
It all comes down to personal responsibility. You are responsible to know your state laws,
county, and city ordinances. As any court will tell you, ignorance of the law is not a legitimate
defense. If your state does not have laws governing airsoft (aka. imitation firearms, replicas,
BB guns) the continued irresponsible use of these guns will bring it about. New Jersey tried to
ban them in 2003. The mayor of Miami joined by Dade County prosecutors and police officials
called for legislators to ban airsoft in Florida after two police encounters with airsofters
occurred days apart in late August.
It is also our personal responsibility to pursue our hobby responsibly (imagine that!). Always
treat your airsoft gun like the real steal. That goes for the rules of gun safety as well. This
one simple rule would solve all of our problems. If it isn’t a good idea to take your dad’s Glock
to school to show your buddy, don’t take your airsoft G19; both will get you expelled and
arrested. You think it’s wise to go stalking around the park in cammies with that pre-ban AK-47?
No; then don’t take your airsoft AK out there either. It may seem like common sense, but as
evidenced by the hundreds of news articles, that can be sifted through on the internet, common
sense isn’t as common as one may think.
Play on private fields away from public purview. “Many states consider ‘public view’ to be any
place able to be viewed from a location where a person has a legal right to be, even if that place
is on your own property.” Use gun cases while transporting your Airsoft guns. If your state
requires firearms to be in a locked container during transport, consider doing the same with your
airsoft guns. Do not ‘openly display’ you guns in public, even if it’s in a holster. People don’
t commonly walk around with guns in thigh rigs so don’t rock your airsoft rig when hitting the
Quick Mart for that 64oz’er after the game. And for god-sake, don’t intentionally commit crimes
How many times have you explained to someone what airsoft is? I firmly believe that lack of
awareness is the only thing saving our sport so far. These bans would come quickly and
overwhelmingly if people knew that our toys look, load, and cycle exactly the same as the real
thing. Talk about airsoft with friends, family, even cops (though not while proned out at gun-
point or on a traffic stop). The more people know about the safe and responsible uses of airsoft,
the less likely these bans will pass when they come around. Educate people on the legitimate use
of airsoft and rebuke those who are building our bad rep.
Here are a few simple things you can do should you be contacted by law enforcement during game
1. If you know they are coming, or you see them before they see you, disarm yourself and step away
from your “guns.” You holding a gun or having it readily accessible upon contact by the officer
will most likely result in the officer drawing his weapon on you. This is serious. Anything you
do wrong from that point on can get you killed…
2. If your gun is on you, or in your immediate area and not immediately recognized by the officer,
put your hands on your head and tell him where it is. Never reach for it!
3. Expect. Expect to be held at gunpoint, expect to lay on the ground, expect to get handcuffed,
and expect more cops to show up. This is all normal procedure, and the officer is doing it so
that he feels safe. Any resistance will be met with overcoming force, resulting in your injury or
death. Expecting these actions will make you more cooperative and therefore less of a threat in
the officer’s eyes.
4. Don’t be mouthy. What you say can be the difference between you going home after showing the
cop your toys, or you leaving in the back of his car or the Coroner’s van. A smart mouth is a
sure fire way to escalate an already tense situation.
5. And above all: FOLLOW DIRECTIONS! DO exactly as you are told. DO NOT argue, explain
yourself, reach for the gun, or make any quick movements. Do not f**k around or be a smart ass.
The officer does not know that it isn’t a real gun; he won’t believe you if you tell him, and the
orange tip doesn’t mean a damn thing at that point. He sees what he recognizes as an automatic
weapon, perceives he is out-gunned, and will not let you have any advantage or opportunity. If he
tells you to drop the gun, drop it. Don’t piss and moan about dropping your $1000 AEG; it’s not
worth dying for.
The best way to avoid such contacts is to use some common sense. Don’t bring your toys out in
pubic places or pubic view, both of which are crimes in almost every state. Play on “closed”
fields and private property (ie. not in the park or BLM land behind your apartment complex).
While in transport, ALWAYS treat your airsoft guns as if they are real guns. The cops will always
do the same!
Jared M. Melton
El Dorado Sheriffs Office - EDSO
|Originally published in The NAM: National Airsoft Magazine Issue #8 Q4 2005
The NAM: National Airsoft Magazine Copyright © 2013 All Rights Reserved.