BILLINGS — After Billings Senior High was placed on lock down after reports of two people walking nearby open carrying what turned out to be Airsoft pistols, a Billings shooting range said the response was understandable, given the similarity to real guns.
"I definitely don’t blame the people who called it in because they saw somebody waving around a gun in a park, I would probably call it in also," said Black Butte Range operations manager Andrew Stapleton on Tuesday.
If you are not familiar with the subtle differences, an Airsoft gun and a gun that fires real bullets can look remarkably similar, and in some cases identical.
"They are actually mocked after the real guns," Stapleton said. "A lot of them will have weights in specific areas to make it feel like it is a real gun."
The biggest difference between an Airsoft gun and a regular gun is the power to kill.
Airsoft guns fire small, plastic BBs at a speed of 200-450 feet per second and aren't made to kill people. A 9 mm handgun bullet travels at 1,850 feet per second, according to Stapleton.
Stapleton said those plastic BBs are propelled from the gun in one of three ways: with spring assistance, battery power or carbon dioxide canisters.
With some models, gun manufacturers make Airsoft, pellet and bullet-firing versions of the same gun that look identical.
Stapleton didn't have any Airsoft guns available to display Tuesday, but he did have pellet-firing versions of pistols that have an Airsoft counterpart.
Stapleton put a Sig Sauer 1911BB gun on the counter next to its .45 caliber counterpart to show the difference.
"This looks and feels and acts like a true 1911 would," Stapleton said. "And they actually make this same exact model in a true 1911 with these exact grips and the same coloring. If this CO2 1911 were to flash in front of somebody they would have no idea. Even down to the inscribing. The real 1911 has the same exact engravings. It would be really hard for anyone to see."
In general, Airsoft guns are used for training, competitions, and war games similar to paintball.
Airsoft guns usually have a orange tip to prevent confusion with the real thing. Stapleton said he's seen the orange tips more so on Airsoft rifles opposed to pistols. But people have painted or removed those tips in the past, increasing the chance of misunderstanding.
"The biggest thing I want people to understand is with today’s age if it looks kind of like a gun and it seems like it could be misconstrued as a gun don’t take it into places like that," Stapleton said.