Arlington, VA

(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.

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