LEAWOOD Air-powered toy guns that look real are becoming increasingly popular, worrying police, parents and officials who say the fake guns could cause real tragedies.
Not only can an airsoft gun's plastic pellets harm people's eyes, as one Leawood seventh-grader learned, but the gun's incredible realism also endangers anyone who brandishes one in public, police said.
"Ask people which one of these (guns) is real," Leawood Police Officer Phil Goff said, comparing one of the toy guns recently waved by an 11-year-old child to the handguns carried by police, "and I bet they'll get it wrong."
Manufactured in Asia, airsoft guns are powered by air and fire plastic 6 mm BBs, which are larger and softer than metal BBs. Still, the plastic pellets can penetrate an eye, damage an eardrum or chip a tooth.
The guns are patterned after dozens of real weapons, ranging from Glock semiautomatic pistols to Uzi submachine guns and M-16 assault rifles.
Goff said many children were playing neighborhood war games with the guns.
One such game nearly turned tragic for Max Tideman, a seventh-grader at Leawood Middle School.
Last fall, Max had just removed his protective goggles when another child, unaware the game had ended, turned a corner and shot Max in the eye. The pellet left a perfect impression on Max's cornea, said his mother, Susan Tideman. Multiple doctor visits later, Max's eye still does not dilate correctly.
Mike Ladd, president of Valkyrie Air, an Olathe-based airsoft recreation company that sells the guns, arranges competitions and leases the guns at airsoft events. He purchased his first airsoft gun, a replica of a German-made assault rifle, nine years ago. After he returned from a game, he leaned the rifle against his car while unloading other gear. Suddenly, an Olathe police officer, who had driven past Ladd's home, ordered him away from his car.
According to Ladd, after he told the officer the gun wasn't real, the officer examined the gun and said, "Good thing that wasn't in your hand."
"It was a very good lesson," Ladd said.