Special Report: Toying With Danger

By Trey Paul - bio | email

TABOR CITY, NC (WMBF) - If you saw men dressed in fatigues using assault rifles and shooting one another and didn't know that it was a game, even the people that play admit there could be a problem.

"If we were walking around the streets with our guns, they'd call the cops," said Airsoft player Steven Aldridge.

What if we told you that this was going in Horry County, literally in your neighbor's backyard?

"A lady called the cops wanting to know why SWAT was running around in the woods behind their house," Aldridge commented.

Aldridge isn't a part of SWAT, but some of his friends look like it. Aldridge plays on an Airsoft team called Sons of the South.

"Airsoft is a military style of play," said Kevin Shimwell, president of Carolina Outdoor Adventure, a 108-acre outdoor park with 15 playing fields.

"The guns as you can see, they vary, and they are one-for-one replicas of what the army actually uses now," explained Aldridge, who uses a M-249 Saw replica or M-14.

Sons of the South team leader Matt Grissom uses what looks like a Saw, too. But the Airsoft guns shoot 6mm plastic pellets.

"You can probably kill somebody with one of these, shooting them in the eyes and stuff," Grissom said.

The owners of Carolina Outdoor Adventure only support Airsoft games that are played in a controlled environment, and all players are required to use face masks. But not everyone plays by the rules.

"It's real dangerous when they start playing in their backyard, in the neighborhoods, and they really don't have any type of supervision," Shimwell commented.

The danger doesn't lie just with the pellets. The appearance of the Airsoft guns is deceiving.

"You go out to some of these hunting clubs or something and a hunter is liable to shoot you," Grissom said.

Shimwell added, "It could be that elder across the street doesn't realize what the kid's got and things get mixed up."

We showed Horry County Police Sgt. Robert Kegler video of the Airsoft game, and while he noted there was no known county law against Airsoft games, the game's realism is cause for concern.

"You look at that and you can't tell if it's a real weapon or not. I just can't believe how realistic those weapons look," Kegler said. "If law enforcement gets called to a man with a gun call and we pull up and there's a guy with a gun that looks just like that shooting at somebody else, we're going to take action."

It's a scene Grissom has been a part of. Law enforcement pulled him over on Highway 905 for speeding.

"I got stopped and a cop came to the truck door and I went ahead and stuck my hands out because I had a Saw sitting in the back seat," he recalled. "The cop did draw his gun."

Grissom was lucky. Nothing happened and he didn't get a ticket. But accidents can happen.

"My biggest concern is if it's not controlled, not regulated, putting people and children in harm," said State Rep. Vida Miller (D-Pawleys Island). "I had no idea there was anything like this, any sport like this out there."

There is no state law that regulates the use of Airsoft weapons. According to Grissom, there are different rules and regulations everywhere you go.

One store in Myrtle Beach does not "usually" sell Airsoft guns to children.

"I think some of the retail stores should have an obligation in monitoring the sales of those guns to individuals," Grissom said, adding a safety course should be required.

Shimwell agreed: "That would not be a bad idea, kind of like a boater safety course."

Miller says that would be an option and something worth looking into.

"If the folks involved with this type of activity are in favor of some type of regulation, I would be happy to work with them to come up with something that would present some safety issues, not only for them as well as the public," she said.

Bottom line: Education is the key.

"If we don't educate people on the safety and how the game is played, then there are misconceptions about it," Shimwell said.

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