10/08/2014 07:30 EDT | Updated 12/08/2014 05:59 EST

Replica gun hazards prompt calls for regulation

Replica firearms now look so authentic that police are calling for regulations into their sale, because of the dangers created when they're mistaken for the real thing

On Sunday, more than 40 Edmonton police officers were called to a gun complaint near a south end school. The “gunman” turned out to be a teenager with a fake firearm who was playing a game near the school.

The next day, RCMP in Redcliff shot a man who allegedly pointed a gun at officers. The weapon turned out to be a Smith & Wesson BB gun. The man remains in hospital in critical but stable condition. The incident is being investigated by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).

Sgt. Steve Sharpe of the Edmonton Police Service says any gun complaint calls must be treated seriously.

He wants more regulations on the sale of replica firearms.

“Regardless of your age, you can go in and purchase these,” he said. “There is nothing criminal that we can do to prevent that from happening.”

While the replicas can be used to commit robberies and other crimes, they are also used in airsoft games — a combat activity much like paintball.

Unlike paintball, airsoft guns shoot pellets and appear more authentic.

'Cops and robbers' with replica guns

Avid "airsofter" Chris Anderson, 32, says the games are like living out the scenario of a video game.

“Most of the guns that you can buy on the market today are pretty much one for one with the real steel weapons that you can get,” he said.

“It’s the gear, and being able to go out and play cops and robbers. Or bad guys against good guys … you’re able to take that experience and actually put it into real life.”

But airsoft gun sellers don’t believe the answer is more regulation.

Josh Reashore, chairman of the Alberta Airsoft Retailers Association, believes increased education and a clarification of current rules would be more effective.

“The current collection is a mishmash of competing documents that’s been assembled over the past couple of years,” he said.  “Currently, you have to look at four or five documents to determine whether an airsoft gun is legal to own.”

In the United States, some cities have either passed or are considering their own restrictions on the sale of replica firearms.

Sharpe believes such measures are ineffective — someone could bypass a bylaw banning the sale of replicas in Edmonton by going to another jurisdiction where they're allowed.

He believes the federal government should step in.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police appears to share his concerns — the issue of replica guns is on the agenda for its meeting in January.