Real or airsoft? Realistic pellet guns trigger similar response from police in crisis situation

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Can you tell the difference between a fake or a real gun? That’s a big question that’s come up after Wednesday’s movie theater attack near Nashville. Among other things, the suspect was armed with an airsoft gun that looked like the real thing.

Metro Nashville police had a tough time figuring that out at first, but it may not matter if you’re committing a crime.

Sam Arabi owns Tenntak Airsoft in South Knoxville. It’s an airsoft field, but they also sell airsoft guns.

“So what you’re looking at is replica toys that are made to look like real guns,” said Arabi as he showed WATE 6 On Your Side some airsoft guns.

The guns circled in red are real. The others are airsoft. Could you tell the difference?
The guns circled in red are real. The others are airsoft. Could you tell the difference?

Arabi tells me that’s part of the sport, but after police in Nashville killed a man they thought was armed with a real gun that turned out to be one of these, it’s brought up some questions, specifically how can the difference be spotted.

Airsoft guns look, feel, and cock like a real gun, but they use BBs, which are white plastic pellets instead of bullets. They are also supposed to have an orange tip on the front.

Arabi says it’s federal law to have the orange tip on all airsoft guns, but admits some people take them off. However, legal analyst, Greg Isaacs, says there are consequences for using the gun for anything other than a toy or for sport and they’re not classified as a firearm under Tennessee law.

“With some of these recent crimes, remember, if you go in and use the gun, the airsoft gun, like a real gun, then you’ll be treated like a real criminal,” said Isaacs.

Arabi says most of the people that use his airsoft field keep the orange tip on, but he says that orange tip can’t necessarily prevent what happened in Antioch from occurring somewhere else.

“Does that mean whether you have an orange tip or not that you can avoid these circumstances? Well, you can have a real gun and paint it with an orange tip, so the cops think it’s an airsoft gun when in fact it might not be,” said Arabi.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office says it’s hard to spot the difference, especially in the heat of the moment. Bottom line, deputies are trained to act to a threat.

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