Teen charged in toy gun incident

SANDPOINT — A 17-year-old male was arrested Tuesday afternoon on felony charges after shooting an Airsoft gun at a city worker.

Sandpoint Police officers responded to the Spruce Street around 3 p.m. to investigate the possibility of gunshots, according to Police Chief Corey Coon. The unnamed high school student, riding by in the passenger seat of his friend’s pickup truck, used an Airsoft gun to fire plastic pellets at a Sandpoint Public Works employee, Coon said.

Responding officers charged the Airsoft shooter with aggravated assault and took him to the juvenile detention facility, Coon said. The driver of the vehicle was not arrested but was instead referred to his probation officer assigned from a previous offense.

“The thing that kids often don’t understand is how quickly a situation like this can turn tragic,” Police Chief Corey Coon said.

 That proved true for the city employee who found himself targeted by Airsoft fire. He had no association with the teenagers, and Coon said he experienced a moment of confusion and panic when he suddenly found himself being fired upon with what appeared to be a normal gun.

For their part, the teenagers weren’t targeting the city employee randomly, nor did they intend any malice toward him. As they drove by and spotted him, they mistook him for a sports coach and decided to play a prank on him. The Airsoft-style gun they used typically poses little safety risk, but more powerful models can leave welts at close range or cause eye damage in the case of a particularly unfortunate shot.

Airsoft guns are required by federal law to be shipped and sold with an orange tip, but no such laws govern the actually ownership of the faux weapons. That means that many Airsoft guns could hypothetically be mistaken for a real weapon, and that could turn a prank into a more serious situation.

“Our officers receive training to distinguish between (Airsoft guns) and real guns, but oftentimes, the average citizen can’t, and they might choose to respond with deadly force,” Coon said.

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