THUNDER BAY - Thunder Bay police are warning that they will treat all guns, real or not, as authentic firearms until they are able to prove otherwise if they are called to scene where a gun is said to be present.
“We are seeing an increase in the carrying of replica firearms and some of them, unfortunately, carry the absolute realistic look of a handgun,” Det.-Insp. John Fennell with the Thunder Bay Police Service said Thursday, Aug. 6.
Fake guns have been well known to be used in the illegal drug trade to intimidate people involved in criminal activity, but recently they have become more prevalent throughout the community, Fennell said.
On Thursday, police announced the arrest of a 24-year-old woman accused of pulling a gun on a store clerk at a convenience store in late July. Police seized the weapon that was used which turned out to be a black replica handgun, similar in look to the service pistol of a police officer, Fennell said
“The difficulty is that the replicas have the characteristics of real firearms,” Fennell said. “When an officer is made to make a split-second decision there is no indication on these weapons whether they are real or not so we have to treat everything as real and it puts the officer at risk as well as the public.”
The warning from the police also speaks to teenagers who are often known to use airsoft or pellet guns in public. Police say despite these guns being toys they can appear as real guns to a passerby in the community who would then call police to attend.
“We don’t have any other information so we come in believing it’s a real firearm or potential of and you can imagine if a young person doesn’t follow commands and points it at a police officer, that puts us at great risk at how we deal with that matter,” Fennell said. “We have nanoseconds to make a decision on whether it’s real or not.”
Fennell clarified it is the way a replica firearm is used by an individual that can result in criminal charges.
“If you use it in the commission of an offence and a person believes it to be a real firearm, you could be charged,” he said, adding a conviction of a firearm-related offence could garner a lengthy jail sentence.
The most common replicas police see are handguns and machine guns. On their own, they are not known to cause serious injuries but can be modified to cause harm, Fennell said.
“There is a new trend that we have seen where they have taken replica firearms and have bought a real firearm receiver…and have turned them into real guns so they are absolutely dangerous,” Fennell said.
This trend is common with airsoft and pellet guns. Police have also warned of criminals painting real firearms with an orange tip to conceal it as a toy.
"Nobody needs to have one of these pointed at them this could change them forever and the fear that goes through these people," Fennell said. "People have to understand you just can't use these things and it is absolutely illegal."