- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

D.C. police and city officials want to stiffen the penalties for offenders who use BB, pellet and air guns as weapons.

Such “guns look very real, the weight is real, they have removable clips,” Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said. “If an individual uses them to commit a crime, they should be treated as if they are using a real gun.”

Under current law, if an offender discharges a BB, pellet or toy gun in the District while committing a crime, that person is charged only with the crime committed. If a person discharges a firearm during a crime, he or she also is charged with a weapons violation.

Persons convicted of owning or carrying a handgun in the District face a maximum of five years in prison.

There is no penalty for owning or carrying a BB gun, air gun or toy. It is illegal for people under 18 to own a BB gun in the District.

“There’s a sense among some criminals that if they get caught with it, the penalty certainly isn’t as severe because it’s not a real handgun,” Chief Ramsey said.

BB guns can cause property damage and, in some cases, kill their targets. Air, pellet and toy guns are harmless when discharged, police say.

The use of such guns in crimes is increasing, says 3rd District Police Cmdr. Larry McCoy, adding that his district last fall saw an increase in street crimes in which replica guns were used.

Last year, police confiscated 61 BB guns, 11 toy guns and 18 pellet guns that were used during crimes, statistics compiled by the Metropolitan Police Department show.

In 2004, 95 pellet, toy and replica guns were seized, statistics show. A breakdown of how many of each was not available.

D.C. police said they did not track how many crimes were committed by thugs carrying such guns last year.

Because many robbery and assault suspects are not caught, it is impossible to know how many were committed with replica weapons, they explained.

Still, officials suspect there were many. “They are used in offenses,” Cmdr. McCoy said. “There is no doubt about that.”

In Alexandria, where it is legal to own a registered handgun, BB and replica guns also are a growing problem, police said.

“From a police standpoint, anything that looks like a real gun is very disturbing because no one wants to encounter someone with a weapon, whether it is real or not,” said Amy Bertsch, a spokeswoman for the Alexandria police.

Police officials in Montgomery and Fairfax counties said they had not heard of efforts to restrict the use of BB guns in their jurisdictions. Currently, BB guns are legal to own in those areas.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, who was shot in the arm with a pellet gun in a drive-by shooting in 2004, said placing tougher restrictions on BB guns should be considered.

“I’d certainly be interested in taking a look at what the District does on this,” he said. “There may be some scenarios we’d consider changing here in Prince George’s County or in Maryland.”

Some D.C. Council members said banning BB guns might be a solution.

“Quite frankly, I think you ought to ban BB guns,” said Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat who is running for mayor. “I don’t personally see the use for them.”

Council member Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat, said that instead of instituting a ban on such guns, officials should look at why crimes are committed with them.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said residents should be required to register BB guns and that the council should examine how other jurisdictions deal with the problem.

Gary Emerling contributed to this report.

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