Watch above: Police didn’t know it at the time but shots fired in downtown Saskatoon on Jan. 10 were from an air gun. As Wendy Winiewski reports, fake guns are often hard to spot and have the potential to cause real problems.
SASKATOON – They look real, they fire pellets and they’re sold without a license. Police say it’s difficult to distinguish a real gun from an air gun.
“Obviously it looks real enough for our officers to believe it is,” said Alyson Edwards, a spokesperson with Saskatoon Police Service.
Saskatoon police officers didn’t know it at the time, but shots fired during a chase in Saskatoon on Jan. 10 were from an air pistol. Bradley Vestby, 35, is facing at least 21 charges including assault with a weapon on a police officer.
Police attempted to pull Vestby over for a routine traffic stop on 8th Street East. He evaded police and a chain of events took place including Vestby allegedly firing a gun at police, who shot back.
Vestby’s gun was an air gun.
READ MORE: Police chase suspect has criminal history
According to Saskatoon Gunsmith Shoppe owner Kerry Higgins, air guns should be distinguishable but often are not.
“Some of them look very realistic,” said Higgins. “In fact, some will be black but they’ll have a little red thing on the end of the barrel but it doesn’t take much to spray paint that.”
Air guns fire pellets, different from replicas which are meant to look real but don’t fire. The barrel on a replica is plugged. Replica guns are illegal in Canada unless they were acquired prior to 1998 guns laws.
“I could use them, for example, to use in a course to teach safe handling,” explained Higgins.
Replicas must be locked and properly stored. Selling them is illegal.
Although it is legal to own an air gun and a replica acquired prior to 1998, using either to commit a crime is punishable.
“We’re seeing increasing numbers of people involved in criminal activity, specifically in the drug trade who are carrying replica firearms to intimidate,” said Edwards.
Prior to the Jan. 10 occurrence, the last incident took place in December 2014 when a replica was seized from a home following an armed robbery.