WEST Midlands Police has warned of the dangers of carrying replica guns in public after a spate of scares sparked by fake firearms.
Armed police have been called to more than 80 incidents recently where 999 alerts have proved to be false alarms as a result of people spotted with ball bearing (BB) guns or similar air-powered weapons in public.
One saw motorway police impose a rolling road block on the M42 while an Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) intercepted a BMW heading south near junction five.
A passenger had earlier been seen at Keele Services pointing a firearm from a window − but officers discovered the men had been “messing around” with a BB gun bought during a lads’ trip to Blackpool.
And last month two men were handcuffed at gunpoint after a panicked member of the public reported seeing one of them enter an address in Bentley with a rifle and hearing shots fired.
A search of their car uncovered an Airsoft replica rifle that seasoned firearms officers said even up close appeared the genuine article.
Detective Inspector Jim Colclough said it’s important to raise awareness ahead of a predicted summer spike of replica gun-related emergency calls.
He said: “Some of these air weapons are very realistic… it’s difficult to tell them apart from the real thing. We always want people to report their concerns to us; the last thing we want is a blasé attitude and someone assuming it’s probably a BB gun.
“Our armed officers always have to treat callouts seriously, they can’t let their guard down and would treat the incident as a genuine threat until it becomes apparent they aren’t dealing with a live firearm.
“We’re reaching out to parents, teenagers and schools to hammer home the message that anyone carrying or using a BB gun in public could quickly find themselves at the centre of an armed response by firearms officers.”
Between April 1 and July 17, West Midlands Police received 81 emergency calls from worried members of the public reporting seeing people with guns that later transpired to be BB guns or air weapons.
It’s an offence to carry an air weapon in public without a reasonable excuse. While there is no statutory definition of a reasonable excuse, it might include carrying a weapon to and from a shooting club or taking a new weapon home from a dealer − but it’s ultimately a decision for the courts to make.
The force’s awareness campaign has seen officers visit schools in the run-up to the summer break to reinforce the law around air weapons and the risks they pose.
PC Rob Pedley MBE, said: “BB guns can be bought legally over-18s − but it can lead to numerous offences if they’re taken out in public which can lead to a conviction and criminal record for life.
“Our presentation will reach around 1,400 pupils throughout the last week of term and over the summer in schools and youth community programmes.
“We aim to highlight the reality of carrying BB or airsoft guns and show how difficult it can be for armed officers to identify often in a fraction of a second whether or not it is a real or replica firearm.”
To report suspicions of firearm possession call West Midlands Police on the 101 number or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111. In an emergency dial 999.