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Police seeing more air and replica guns used in crimes

Bill aims to keep the guns away from felons, drug distribution

Police recovered a replica “Sig Sauer 1911” pistol when arresting a man who had crystal methamphetamine in Makawao in October. MAUI POLICE DEPARTMENT photos

WAILUKU — Police are seeing an increase in air guns and replica guns being used in criminal activity and are proposing restrictions on the weapons similar to those for firearms when used by felons to commit crimes.

Under a bill submitted in May to the Maui County Council, felons, fugitives and people facing violent or drug charges would be among those prohibited from having air guns or replica guns.

The bill also would make it a crime to possess an air gun or replica gun with the intent to use the weapon to facilitate felony drug distribution.

“We are pushing for this change in the law because felons are using the lack of the law to skirt the firearms laws,” said Lt. Audra Sellers, commander of the police Community Relations Section. “Felons are using these air guns and replicas to commit other felony crimes such as robberies, burglaries and narcotic trafficking.”

From January to mid-March, the police Crime Reduction Unit recovered more than 25 air guns or replica guns along with 99 illegal firearms, 24 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, 2 pounds of heroin and more than $350,000 in cash. Police said all of the air gun or replica gun cases have been tied to the possession or distribution of narcotics and most of those involved are felons.

Two replica AR-15 airsoft rifles along with a large amount of crystal methamphetamine, heroin and cash were recovered when police Crime Reduction Unit officers executed a search warrant in Kula in May 2020.

“We’re seeing people who have criminal records using it as if it were a real gun,” Sellers said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, if there’s drugs involved, there’s a firearm or replica gun involved. It’s like drugs and guns go together.”

Air guns expel pellets or BB shots propelled by compressed air or gas. Replica guns are toys that resemble firearms to the point where someone would have trouble distinguishing them from actual firearms.

“Criminals are using them as lethal weapons,” Sellers said. “The projectiles they shoot can kill somebody.

“It’s not like it’s less than lethal. It’s just not covered under the law.”

The cost of air guns and replica guns is about half the cost of firearms, Sellers said. Although some air guns have an orange tip to signify they’re not firearms, some people paint over or remove the orange, Sellers said.

A box of seized lead .50-caliber ammunition for an air gun is shown.

She said the proposed changes in the law wouldn’t affect sporting events, such as air riflery or paintball activities, or legal hunting.

“It’s not going to inhibit people who play sports or use air guns for legitimate reasons,” she said.

The bill would allow adults to use air guns or replica guns at enclosed ranges and on private property as long as the projectile remains on the property from which it’s discharged.

The bill would prohibit carrying or displaying air guns in public places or areas open to the public unless the weapons are unloaded and in enclosed containers. It would be illegal to brandish or display air guns or replica guns to frighten, threaten or harass others or in the presence of law enforcement officers, firefighters and other emergency workers.

In motor vehicles, air guns or replica guns wouldn’t be allowed under or near the driver’s seat, in the glove box, on the dashboard or in other areas accessible to vehicle occupants.

In addition to felons and fugitives, people prohibited from possessing air guns and replica guns would include anyone under treatment or counseling for drug or alcohol addiction or abuse; anyone diagnosed with significant behavioral, emotional or mental disorders; and anyone who is subject to a court restraining or protective order.

A violation of the law would carry a fine of up to $500 and up to one year in jail.

The bill allows for air guns or replica guns to be forfeited to the county if someone is convicted of illegally possessing the weapons.

A hearing hasn’t been scheduled for the bill, which was referred June 4 to the Maui County Council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee.

The bill can be seen by going online to mauicounty.us /agendas and clicking on the June 4 council meeting, then county communication 21-265.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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