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Jack Knox: Half of guns seized in Victoria are replicas — but who can tell?

When confronted with someone wielding a firearm, it can be awfully hard to tell the fake from the real.

I’m no expert, but I grew up around guns.

We lived out of town, in a place with a backyard swing that hung from a tall frame built out of eight-by-eight timbers. Come hunting season, my dad’s .303 would come out, the swing would come down and a deer would go up, strung by the heels like ­Moosolini.

At age 12, I marched into Woodward’s with my paper route money and walked out with a single-shot Cooey .22. So did every kid I knew. (Echoes of ours mothers’ voices: “What are you doing inside on a day like this? Get your guns and go to the dump.”)

But jeez, none of those ­weapons looked anything like the array of firearms VicPD ­displayed Thursday — handguns, a sniper weapon, Schwarzenegger-level automatics…

It was an exercise in which media types were asked to see if they could tell real guns apart from replicas. For the record, I failed miserably. The term replica might apply broadly to include many airsoft, BB and pellet guns, as well as those that fire no projectile at all, but the ones on display all resembled something Vin Diesel would blaze away with in Fast and Furious Fifty, as opposed to ­Ralphie’s “you’ll shoot your eye out” Daisy Red Ryder from A Christmas Story.

That, presumably, was the point the police were trying to make in staging the exercise. When confronted with someone wielding a firearm, it can be awfully hard to tell the fake from the real.

“Our officers regularly find both realistic replicas and ­functional firearms alongside each other on the same call,” Police Chief Del Manak was quoted as saying. “This means they have to make split-second, life-or-death decisions on how they respond to a person in ­possession of a potentially deadly weapon.”

Note that in 2022 VicPD ­officers seized, on average, two guns a week — one real, one ­replica. “When a cop’s ­encountering a firearm, there’s a 50-50 chance it’s real,” says the department’s Bowen Osoko. How are they supposed to react?

This isn’t just a theoretical question. On Wednesday, the Independent Investigations Office cleared a Nanaimo RCMP officer who killed a man who pointed a replica handgun at him during a close-quarters ­struggle in July. He had every right to believe his life was in danger, the IIO report said.

News archives document the dilemma. Last week, we read about West Shore RCMP seizing fentanyl, cocaine, crack and three replica firearms, including a replica submachine gun. On New Year’s Day, an Alberta man who fought police after being found smoking weed in a stolen car at Clover Point had a ­concealed replica handgun.

A November TC story said replicas “virtually ­indistinguishable from real ­firearms” had been seized from a Greater Victoria man accused of robbing people of their cash at gunpoint after luring them with promises of cheap gaming systems. Also in 2022, Mounties who busted an Esquimalt man for brandishing a replica Glock 19 handgun near Westshore Town Centre said it looked just like the real deal.

In October, it took an examination at the cop shop to determine that a seized sawed-off shotgun wasn’t real.

The law says replicas that are meant to look exactly, or nearly exactly, like a real, ­existing ­firearm are prohibited, but people still seem able to find lookalikes that are deemed OK. At least they don’t need the ­Possession and Acquisition Licence that you need to buy a real one.

The thing is, whether or not an imitation gun is prohibited, it still counts as a firearm once used in the commission of an offence. Also, the distinction might not matter if the police can’t tell the difference.

Some good news — and some bad news. The bad is that gremlins removed several lines of type from the print edition of my Thursday column. The good is that the consensus among my colleagues was that this improved the quality of the column immensely. Nonetheless, the full piece is available online.

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