An ill-advised outing last week by four St. Albert teens with airsoft guns shows how important it is for youths and parents alike to be educated about the rules, dangers and potential repercussions of using firearms in public.
The outing in question triggered a full police response to Mission Park last Thursday, along with an outpouring of worry from residents on social media, and culminated in the arrest and subsequent release of the teens. A photo of the airsoft guns released by RCMP shows just how difficult it can be to tell the difference between these and real guns: no orange tips adorned the ends, and from a distance it is easy to see how they could have been mistaken for regular guns.
It's the second time this year RCMP have responded to a firearms complaint that involved youths and airsoft guns. The first instance was the morning of Jan. 26, when police received a report of two suspicious males with a rifle in a wooded area of Grandin. RCMP officers educated those youths, as well as their parents, about the rules surrounding air guns.
In both instances, the teens in question no doubt thought playing with airsoft guns in public was all in good fun. We would hope that for the parents getting word that their children had been the catalyst for a large police response would be a wake-up call.
These two events show a gap in public knowledge about the rules surrounding airsoft guns. In 2019, with bylaws available at the press of a button, not knowing those rules is at very least an abrogation of the responsibility gun users of all kinds bear.
St. Albert's bylaws lump air guns in with all firearms, along with BB guns, sling shots, bows and arrows, and gas-powered guns. These rules also prohibit such weapons from being discharged within city limits.
These rules are in place for a reason. Not only do they promote safety and give residents peace of mind, they also help to avoid costly police responses to otherwise innocuous situations.
There are places where airsoft guns can be used safely, but a public park isn't one of them. Youths, and especially their parents, must take the time to educate themselves about the rules surrounding airsoft guns before using them. With the majority of Albertans having limited knowledge about firearms in general – in 2017, an estimated 300,000 Albertans held their Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) – the sight of imitation firearms or air guns is almost certain to stir up concern and lead to an RCMP complaint.
The latest incident calls into question how seriously some youths and their parents take the responsibility that comes along with ownership of any firearm. It should serve as a warning to anyone wanting to use airsoft guns to do so responsibly.