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Police Warn of Replica Weapon Dangers

by ARLnow.com — June 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm 2,736 45 Comments

(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) Police chiefs and sheriffs from a dozen Northern Virginia law enforcement agencies gathered for a press conference today to warn about the dangers of “look-alike or replica guns used by children and young adults.”

Arlington County Police Chief M. Douglas Scott, who participated in the news conference, said replica weapons — including realistic-looking Airsoft and BB guns — are being used by kids for play and by criminals for robberies. In all cases where replica guns are used in public, Chief Scott said, they put the person holding the weapon at great personal danger.

“The message today was really to parents and kids about the dangers of using this kind of weapon in a public place,” Scott said. “People see the weapons and they believe them to be real, and they call police.”

“Police officers have to make a split second-decision,” Scott continued. “If someone turns and brandishes a weapon… it could be tragic for everybody and we want to avoid that if at all possible.”

Scott said those brandishing replica guns in public might also be confronted by armed citizens, especially in Northern Virginia where concealed weapons permits are fairly common.

“They may be confronted [by armed citizens] in a way they did not expect,” Scott said. “There’s great danger in that… even though they did not intend to harm anybody.”

Scott said replica weapons, which are cheaper than real guns, are also increasingly being used by criminals for robberies.

“We’ve had a number of robberies this year alone where later we determined… the weapon used by the robber looks like a replica weapon,” Scott said. According to the department, there have been at least four confirmed incidents involving a BB or Airsoft gun in Arlington so far this year.

Arlington County Police say they’re planning to launch a public education campaign about replica weapons. The campaign is expected to include outreach to students by school resource officers, as well as outreach to local civic associations.

This article has been updated to remove an erroneous reference to legal differences between the use of a real gun and a fake gun in the commission of a crime.

  • guns

    they need to make the use of a fake gun in a real crime the same as a real gun in a real crime.

    • nom de guerre

      How about the use of a fake gun in a fake crime committed by a clown?

      • WeiQiang

        Depends on whether the prosecutor files “Nolle Prosequi”, so that s/he can take the great felony offense of asking a clown question like this to a grand jury.

        http://www.arlnow.com/2012/06/27/crime-report-manhandled-by-masseuse/#comment-184787

      • guns

        whats for lunch today?

        • nom de guerre

          You must have missed my previous post earlier today under the Crystal City Twilighter 5K article.

          Speaking of broiling, today’s daily special at Sam’s Corner features broiled Spam slices on artisanal Wonder Bread topped with Cheese Whiz and shallot infused mayonaise with herbs de provence. Only while supplies last.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU-u28djN20

          • guns

            hehe i love that. thanks

      • Unemployed Comedian

        That’s a clown question, bro….

    • JimPB

      Agreed.

      Who, with what looks like a gun pointed at their torso, wants to be the subject for a test as to whether the gun is real (and loaded) or is fake (a toy replica)?

      Same applies re: a knife (metal or rubber).

    • Gypsy

      That was my first instinct, but wouldn’t you rather them use a fake one than a real one? If the punishment is the same, the only reason they’d use a fake one rather than a real one would be the cheaper price. People may be just as scared when it’s fake, but at least they’re not in any real danger (from a gun at least, the person could still harm them in other ways).

    • Bender

      Typical that the police chief does not know the law.

      The use of a replica or toy gun (or even a “finger gun”) during a robbery is sufficient to convict for use of a firearm in the commission of a crime, as Virginia courts have repeatedly held, see, for example, Startin v. Commonwealth, 56 Va. App. 26 (2010) (en banc decision).

      • Bender

        This Court of Appeals en banc decision was upheld by the Virginia Supreme Court, 281 Va. 374 (2011) –

        “While the replica used by Startin was not an actual operational firearm, it nonetheless was a weapon within the meaning of that term as used in this statute [§ 18.2-53.1]. In affirming Startin’s conviction, the Court of Appeals correctly held that
        ‘[b]ecause Code § 18.2-53.1 is aimed at preventing actual physical injury or death, the term ‘firearm’ includes any instrument that is capable of expelling a projectile by force or gunpowder. As importantly, the term firearm in Code § 18.2-53.1 also includes other objects that are not capable of firing projectiles but give the appearance of being able to do so.’
        Startin, 56 Va. App. at 38-39, 690 S.E.2d at 316 (quoting Thomas v. Commonwealth, 25 Va. App. 681, 685, 492 S.E.2d 460, 462 (1997)). Startin’s replica of a firearm gave the appearance of an actual firearm and was certainly capable of evoking fear of physical harm. Consequently, we hold that the Commonwealth’s evidence was sufficient to convict Startin of using a firearm in violation of Code § 18.2-53.1 upon proof that he ‘employed an instrument which gave the appearance of having a firing capability, whether or not the object actually had the capacity to propel a bullet by the force of gunpowder.’ Holloman, 221 Va. at 199, 269 S.E.2d at 358.”

      • http://www.arlnow.com ARLnow.com

        FWIW: ACPD has asked us to retract the chief’s comments regarding legal differences between the use of a real gun and a replica gun in commission of a crime.

        • Opie

          Erroneous comments are still erroneous.

  • Arlingtron

    The law should be changed. If it looks like a real gun then it should be considered one and carry the same charge. Fake guns used in drills have a red tip on the end of the barrel to indicate they won’t fire a projectile.

    I use replica guns in dramatic theatre and movie production and they are treated as if they are 100% real including handling, transportation, and storage.

    • Tumblebum

      No need to change the law. That’s what it is and has been for a long time.

  • Opie

    They should require warning labels on the replica gun packaging when you buy them. All this stuff is common sense and about good parenting anyway.

  • Bullet Tooth Tony:

    And the fact that you’ve got “Replica” written down the side of your guns… And the fact that I’ve got “Desert Eagle point five O”…Written down the side of mine…

    • Hank

      I’ve got the same thing written down the side of my shaft. Very small lettering.

      • Bullet Tooth Tony:

        replica?

        • Hank

          No, the shaft is original.

          • WeiQiang

            *applause*

          • nom de guerre

            By any chance is the shaft shaped like a bollard?

          • WeiQiang

            Bawdist !

    • clown

      Mine has a flag that comes out and says “BANG!”

  • Aaron

    Does Arlington or Virginia law currently prohibit an individual from removing the red/orange tip from the barrel of a BB/airsoft gun?

    • nom de guerre

      Lorena Bobbitt is the only one who is authorized to remove a pink tip.

  • bobco85

    I think that using a fake gun to simulate real guns in any sort of crime should bear the same penalty as if a real gun were being used.

    On a related note, if my previous statement were to be written into law, could other simulations of real guns in crimes, e.g., a mugger holding a stick to the victim’s back and telling them it’s a gun, bear a similar penalty?

    • Arlingtron

      How about “implied gun” such as putting your hand in your jacket pocket and pointing it towards the victim?

      • Joe Hoya

        That should be illegal, too. But during trial your lawyer should be able to offer the affirmative defense that you were “just happy to see” the victim.

  • SomeGuy

    Did Scott actually say the “especially in Northern Virginia where concealed weapons permits are fairly common” part? Or was that a contextual enhancement added by ArlNow?

  • Bullet Tooth Tony:

    i have a concealed gun permit. Just saying.

  • Jason B

    I was in a Giant and Arlington’s finest came in. they surrounded this guy and told him to remove his “concealed” weapon. He started yelling at the cops that there was no sign in front of Giant saying concealed weapons were not permitted inside the store. I guess he was from Texas or something.

    • SomeGuy

      I don’t understand the context of this story. He’s allowed to have a concealed weapon in Arlington, including in grocery stores as far as I know, so why would that be in question assuming he has a valid permit? Or were they surrounding him due to criminal suspicion on something else?

      • bob

        Complete absence of relevant facts. Next anecdote, please.

        • Joe Hoya

          I knew this one guy who used a bb-gun to trick guards into letting him and his family go on the rides at Wally World.

          • Clark

            Don’t tempt me. I could poke an eye out with this thing.

    • Sparky

      He must have displayed it to someone that say, cut in line in front of him or took a parking spot he had his eye on. Otherwise, how would anyone have known he was packing a concealed weapon? Than if nailed, just explain it away as a wardrobe malfunction.

  • Garden City

    I don’t know about VA, but in Georgia anything that looks like a gun, when brandished during the commission of a crime, is considered to be a gun, including your index finger poking your jacket pocket. I was on a jury in GA that sent a guy away for a long time for attempting to hold up a convenience store with his index finger poking his jacket pocket.

    • Bender

      Again, that is the law in Virginia too. See above.

    • JimPB

      Justice done right.

  • Roquer

    If I read this correctly, there were 17 reported incidences of reported handguns in Arlington. Of these, 11 were armed robberies and 6 were brandishing. I believe that equals 17. Therefore, who is being warned here? The criminals? I’m perfectly ok with criminals running about with fake guns. That way, when the CHP holder shoots them there is no chance of the licensed person getting injured.

  • Me

    I came across a group of teenagers playing what they thought was a harmless game of “manhunt” with an air soft gun. It was 10 p.m. in a dark neighborhood and I put my bright lights on them and was about to call the police when I realized it wasn’t a real manhunt. An officer happening upon the same scene would more than likely have drawn his gun. These kids don’t realize that what they think is harmless is really putting them in harms way.

    • brian

      What you meant to say, “I had already drawn my gun to protect myself in case these thugs turned on me”.

      I would have.

  • Observer

    Ooof….It must suck being a kid these days. Everybody thinks you could be some kind of psychopath monster intent on murderous actions.

    We used to play in the streets with our replica M-16′s, with no silly day-glo junk on them. Just playing and having fun without people freaking out.

    • Clarendon

      We played war with tree limbs as guns and black walnuts as grenades. Those grenades hurt when they hit you and left a nasty stain on everything.

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