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Real vs. fake guns: Not always clear difference

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Posted at 6:39 PM, Apr 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-28 19:08:56-04

Staring down the barrel of a gun, police officers have seconds to decide if they should shoot. A very real decision when the firearm could end up being fake.

It's much harder to tell the difference then you may think. We hit the streets of Baltimore to put people to the test.

Side by side, a real pistol looks almost identical to a gun that is plastic and fake.

For the second time in two weeks, a person carrying an imitation gun has been shot by Baltimore City Police. Commissioner Kevin Davis says criminals carry these toy guns all the time. It's something officers take seriously. Police say this should trigger a bigger discussion about the use of these very real looking pistols.      

"Quick glance, you really can't tell, I mean, you could carry this in a holster or shoulder holster and you would think it was a real weapon," said Frank Loane, Owner of Pasadena Pawn and Gun.

He says he understands why the split second decision is hard for officers. Many of these replicas have the weight of real guns, and even their own serial numbers.

"Criminals can't really get handguns legally unless they buy one hot, but they can get these fake ones anywhere, at a toy store, you know, it's very easy to get."

Federal law actually requires toy or imitation guns be sold with orange tips on the barrels, but they can easily be removed or painted over.  Lawmakers pushed for a crackdown on the sale of toy guns this legislative session.

"The legislation that I proposed was to make certain that imitation guns would be unlawful in the state of Maryland to sell to manufacture or to import," said Senator C. Anthony Muse.

The proposed bill ended up being withdrawn, but Senator Muse says he plans to re-introduce it again next session.

"It would have given an awareness to parents that you can't buy these look alike weapons,” he said. “And your child is in danger when they carry these weapons on them in the streets, that a police officer really has no way of knowing whether it is real or not."

A 1990 study done for the U.S. Department of Justice found over a four year period 15 percent of robberies were committed with imitation firearms.

"I own a store down the street and if somebody walked in with a gun like that, I would think I was being held up," Thomas said.

"I mean, it's really hard to tell,” said Jones.  “It's nothing you can just oh this is fake, this is real, it's almost identical."

Baltimore Police say they don't keep statistics on crimes committed with fake guns in the city.

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