Paramilitary enthusiasm has not been limited to the firearms market. America’s manufacturers of non-powder firearms (such as BB guns and pellet guns) and toy guns have been quick to realize that assault weaponry is in. These manufacturers’ role models are no longer hunting rifles and Western-style six-shooters, but machine guns and large-caliber handguns. This shift has been accompanied by a keener eye to detail and advances in plastic molding. The result: non-powder firearms and toy guns that are virtually indistinguishable from their more lethal counterparts.
Daisy Manufacturing was one of the first to recognize this potential market. The company introduced its paramilitary line of imported Softair guns in 1986. Softair guns are working replicas, down to the point of expelling spent shells and firing plastic pellets. They retail for approximately $60. “So accurate in detail you’ll swear it’s the real thing!…a ‘must have’ for paramilitary enthusiasts of all ages,” reads the catalog description for a replica of the UZI Assault pistol. Copy for a replica of the KG9-SP (predecessor of the TEC-9) boasts that it’s “an authentic reproduction of the American-made semiautomatic defense weapon used by anticommunist guerrillas in Angola.” A replica of a Heckler & Koch weapon is described as being “without a doubt the most exciting paramilitary airgun on the market today! Styled after the semiautomatic firearm carried by the German police and made famous in the motion picture, ‘Rambo: First Blood, Part II,’ the Model 15 has the look and feel of the real thing.”
Rival manufacturer Crosman has its own UZI look-alike (which fires metal projectiles) and a reproduction of Colt’s M-16 machine gun dubbed the A.I.R. 17. Crosman guarantees that “it looks just like the real thing,” down to a detachable pellet clip and flash guard on the muzzle of the gun.
Larc International, located in Longwood, Florida, offers—by mail—the M19-A BB submachine gun. “Imagine—a 3,000 BB per minute cycle rate with an effective range of over 50 yards—That’s some AWESOME Fire Power!!!” With a magazine capacity of 3,000 BBs, the weapon also comes in a pistol version. Each sells for $39. On the ordering coupon, the purchaser must promise that he or she is 18 years or older.
The Para-Ordnance M-85 is a full-auto paint ball “splat gun” MAC-11 machine pistol replica that fires 1,200 rounds per minute at 440 feet per second. The 24-round magazine can be emptied in 1.2 seconds. It sells for $299.50.
Far more common than paramilitary non-powder firearms are plastic-molded toy assault weapons. In addition to such staples as M-16s, AK-47s, UZIs, and KG-9s, Daisy, the self-proclaimed leader in the field, offers toy silenced MAC-10 pistols (the Alan Berg murder weapon) and bolt action machine guns.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), located in Gaithersburg, Maryland, views look-alikes as a unique threat to public safety. As criminal misuse of assault weapons increases, police are more likely to assume that look-alikes are in fact real firearms. People who thoughtlessly display or brandish look-alikes run the risk of finding themselves in a deadly face-off with a police officer who must make a split-second decision on whether or not to draw a weapon and fire. According to the IACP, incidents involving airguns, highly detailed toy guns, and paint “splat guns” are increasing dramatically.
In May 1988, as an amendment to a bill dealing with the threat posed by non-detectable “plastic” firearms, Congress voted to require that every look-alike sold in America be clearly marked with an orange stripe or other color to distinguish it from its real counterpart. The bill is awaiting presidential signature, which is expected. On the state and local level, laws have been introduced and enacted regarding the sale, production, and brandishing of look-alikes.
But even prior to the bill, various companies, reacting to the growing debate over look-alikes and the increasing negative publicity their sales generated, began to shift their product lines and mark their products to help distinguish them from real firearms. In late 1987, Daisy stopped the sale of its Softair guns, which had been imported from Japan. A spokesman for the company noted, however, that the decision was “90 percent financial. The guns just weren’t selling.”
Critics of the marking concept point out that the marking can be easily painted over and will do little good in the dark, while criminals can paint similar markings on real guns.
What make look-alikes so appealing—that they look just like the increasingly popular assault weapons—is precisely what makes them so dangerous.
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