The Toy Gun That’s Getting Teens Killed

Airsoft guns, toy guns popular with teenagers, have resulted in numerous teen deaths from officer-involved shootings due to police mistaking the toys for real firearms.

By Jennifer Hollohan | Published

Toy guns are a staple item for many in the US. And one of the most popular among older kids (and some adults) is the airsoft gun. However, this toy gun has been making news this year due to its role in a few tragic teen deaths.

The most recent incident occurred in Los Angeles this month. An LAPD officer shot and killed 19-year-old Luis Herrera after he pointed an airsoft rifle at responding officers. And back in July, an 18-year-old holding an airsoft gun was killed by an off-duty officer in the Bronx. 

In both instances, the young men pointed their airsoft guns at officers before being shot. And in the Herrera case, an airsoft pistol was also on his body at the time of the shooting. The officer is on leave pending an investigation.

These are not the only troubling interactions between younger airsoft gun enthusiasts and police. They are occurring so frequently that police departments nationwide are urging people not to use toy guns in public. According to Vice News, New York, Texas, and Florida departments have all publicly cautioned airsoft owners about the risks. 

For those unfamiliar with the airsoft gun platform – it is a modern and upgraded BB gun. Modeled after real firearms, the toys only shoot non-lethal projectiles. The toy guns come in both rifle and pistol formats.

airsoft guns
Airsoft Gun

Airsoft guns are so realistic, law enforcement and the military use them for training. They also make appearances in Hollywood productions. And kids and adults alike love them for backyard target practice.  

By law, all toy guns must have a red or orange tip on the barrel during manufacturing, importing, transportation, and at the store. However, once someone purchases a toy gun, they may or may not have to keep the colored tip on. State laws vary in this requirement. 

Those colored tips help distinguish real firearms from toy firearms. That differentiation is important, especially given how realistic airsoft guns are now. Without the added pop of color, it can be difficult to tell real guns from toys.

Additionally, some airsoft gun owners have started painting their toy guns after purchasing them to make them look even more realistic. These modified rifles and pistols play a prominent role in a recent TikTok challenge making news – called #OrbeezChallenge. The goal is to load gooey Orbeez into an airsoft gun and shoot them at unsuspecting strangers. 

Unfortunately, these modifications have had dire consequences in a few tragic cases. And the Herrera case is the most recent incident. There was no mention of a colored tip on the rifle he pointed at officers.

According to the official department statement: “The officers gave Herrera commands to drop the rifle. However, Herrera did not comply.” He “…shouldered the rifle and pointed it at the officers, resulting in an OIS [officer involved shooting]. 

LAPD has started its investigation of the incident. They will provide findings to the chief of police and the Critical Incident Review Division. Ultimately, the Board of Police will decide the fate of the officer involved.