They are called "airsoft guns," and as the name suggests, they use compressed air to shoot small plastic BB-gun type balls. While this may sound like a harmless toy, it can be very dangerous, both for a person being hit by one of the pellets as well as the person carrying the gun.
A report from WMGT-TV in Macon, Georgia points out that these guns look very realistic and can easily be mistaken for a real weapon.
"The realism is a lot better than when I was a kid. We had little plastic guns that were blue or yellow. Now they have actual weapon systems that look like real weapons," said George Welch of the Collier County, Florida Sheriff's Office.
Federal law requires all toy guns to have bright orange tips to distinguish them from the real thing. But some people take off or paint the tips. And many people don't know that the orange tip means a fake gun, so they might take action with their very real gun if they feel threatened.
Another problem is that the projectiles could be dangerous. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier in Iowa reports that the BBs leaving the barrel of an airsoft pistol travel 130 feet per second; 650 feet per second for a sniper rifle. One rifle that fires at 375 feet per second has a warning on the box that states it "may be dangerous to 100 yards."
The folks at the Center for Injury Biomechanics at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest conducted a study to see just how dangerous these pellets can be. They fired them at the eyes of donated corpses of people and pigs; every shot bruised a cornea. 75% had bleeding of the eye. No shots, however, ruptured any eyeballs.
"It fires a projectile that can cause injury --- the whole, 'you'll shoot your eye out' mentality is a concern," said Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson said.
Thompson said people should treat an airsoft gun the same way they treat a real gun and take the same precautions.
"The same safety rules should apply," he said.