Realistic pellet guns worry Kent police

(Original publication: Nov. 23, 2001)

KENT When two teen-agers jokingly pointed pellet guns at each other Sunday night outside a Lake Carmel store, someone who saw the exchange thought the guns were real and called police.

Kent police officers who confiscated the pellet guns also thought they were the genuine article.

They looked, felt and weighed about the same as a 9 mm Beretta pistol, with similar action and a heavy metal magazine for ammunition.

The guns looked so real that town Police Chief Donald L. Smith is calling on their manufacturer, Daisy Outdoor Products, to stop making them, and the Wal-Mart store in Fishkill where the teens bought them to pull the guns off the shelf.

"This is very important," Smith said. "God forbid a kid, or anyone, points one of these at someone and that person doesn't know that it's a pellet gun. This is a matter of common sense and doing what's right. We don't want to take a life because someone points a pellet gun at one of our officers."

The Powerline Airstrike 240 pellet gun has been a touchy subject with police in Michigan, Oklahoma, New York and elsewhere because it so closely resembles a 9 mm pistol.

During the summer, a police officer in Guymon, Okla., almost opened fire on a teen-ager who had one of the pellet guns tucked into his waistband and refused to show his hands.

A few days later, a Michigan man brought his son's pellet gun to police because he thought it was real. State police in Fishkill have also dealt with the guns, which shoot a plastic .24-caliber pellet and sell for about $20.

"There have been a couple of instances this year of kids having these guns," said state police Investigator Joe Todaro of Fishkill. "Even in a well-lit room, these guns look very much like the real thing."

Last month, Cold Spring police confiscated similar pellet guns from several Haldane High School students on at least two occasions, Officer Thomas Corless said.

He later met with Haldane officials and students to talk about the guns.

Kent Detective Kevin Douchkoff, who handled the investigation into Sunday's incident, said no charges were filed against the boys because each knew it was a pellet gun. Had the boys pointed them at someone who didn't know they were pellet guns, they could have faced menacing charges, Douchkoff said.

Several messages left this week with Daisy Outdoor Products in Rogers, Ark., were not returned.

In the past, the company has said the Powerline brand of pellet guns is designed for adults and shooters over 16 years of age with adult supervision.

The company has said its pellet guns look and feel like real guns because they are often used by people who shoot firearms and expect the air guns to look and work in a similar fashion.

State law forbids anyone under 16 from possessing a BB or pellet gun.

Curt Jones, manager of the Fishkill Wal-Mart, said the store voluntarily prohibits selling pellet or BB guns to anyone under the age of 18. A photo identification is required at the register.

Jessica Moser, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., said the chain recently decided to sell BB or pellet guns only to people 18 and older.

"We've trained all our volunteers on that policy and we use technology that prompts the cashier to check the buyer's identification whenever one of these purchases is made," Moser said. "The bottom line is that this is not a toy."

Still, Kent's police chief said the pellet guns shouldn't be sold to anyone, regardless of age, because of the danger they pose.

Smith contacted state Sen. Vincent L. Leibell III, R-Patterson, who said that, when he returns to Albany, he would ask the head of the Legislature's Codes Committee about possible legislation to curb the sale of look-alike pellet guns.

"It poses a risk for the police officer and the person with the gun," Leibell said. "It's something we have to look at and find a way to address."


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