Here's How Many People Wielding Fake Guns Were Shot to Death by Cops This Year

December 19th 2016

Lucy Tiven

Fake guns have become a very real problem for law enforcement.

Encounters between cops and people wielding toy guns, pellet guns, and imitation weapons led to at least 86 fatal police shootings in the past two years, the Washington Post reports.


These deaths are split evenly between 2015 and 2016 — with 43 police killings involving copy-cat firearms in each of the two years.

The Post documented events leading up to the shootings, demographics trends among victims, and the types of guns used in a series of charts. Some key takeaways include:

  • 18 of the victims were holding BB guns, the largest share of any type of fake weapon
  • The vast predominant share of victims were male (81), white (54), and between the ages of 25-34 (27)
  • The greatest share of shootings came after a 911 call was made.

It is practically impossible to train cops to differentiate between phonies and lethal weapons from a distance, according to law enforcement officers.

From the Post:

"Police recovered a wide variety of the weapons in the fatal shootings, but almost all had one thing in common: They were highly realistic copies of firearms. Of those, 53 were pneumatic BB or pellet guns that fire small-caliber metal balls or pellets. An additional 16 were Airsoft guns, which use compressed air cartridges to fire plastic BBs. Thirteen were replicas, two were toys, one was a starter pistol and one was a lighter. Experts who study the domestic market for pellet and Airsoft guns said consumer demand for replica firearms has grown."

Half the shootings documented by the Post occurred at night. Police claim that 60 out of the 86 victims pointed guns at officers and failed to obey orders.

Toys like BB and airsoft guns have begun to look more like real weapons in recent years, Time reported in April.

“It would be unrealistic to try to instruct an officer to make a split-second decision that this is a real gun or a fake gun,” Lt. Chris Cook, from Arlington Police Department in Texas, told Time. “From our perspective, we think there’s no reason to manufacture these fake guns. We don’t see a legitimate need to manufacture something that resembles a real gun.”

Eighth-grader Dedric Colvin was wielding a BB gun in April, when he was shot twice by Baltimore police and suffered non-fatal injuries, the Baltimore Sun reports. The BB gun was manufactured by the company Daisy and is sold in sporting goods stores and online.

"People want an air gun to function like and look like a firearm,” Daisy spokesperson Joe Murfin told Time. Murfin said the company makes its guns resemble the real thing because they are still capable of causing injuries and said their products include disclaimers cautioning against using them in public.

The NRA and guns rights groups have also opposed dramatic shifts in the appearance of toy and replica firearms, the Post reports.

Some states have laws regulating or banning toy guns.


According to Time, "In 2014, California passed the Imitation Firearm Safety Act, which mandates that the exteriors of BB and airsoft guns be painted a bright color or include florescent strips so they’re distinguishable from real firearms." New York state has also reached agreements with retailers to limit the sale of replica guns. And, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 12 states, plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., prohibit residents from possessing fake guns that resemble real ones.

You can read the full report on the Washington Post.