The two people who prompted a lockdown at Billings Senior High School on Tuesday were reportedly carrying black AirSoft pistols, similar to BB guns, according to police chief Rich St. John.
Police tracked the two to Monroe Street in a vehicle and confiscated the pistols. St. John said he doesn't know if charges will be filed.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito told MTN News that no state laws forbid possession of an Airsoft gun in public. Certain city ordinances may forbid shooting the guns in public places, he said.
He added that no additional information about filing charges had come to him on Tuesday afternoon.
According to the Billings Public Schools handbook, anyone who brings a firearm, including a toy gun that looks real, could face expulsion.
The manager of 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."
(TUESDAY, OCTOBER 22) Billings Senior High School was placed in lock-down on Tuesday afternoon after police received a report from a teacher who claimed to have seen two juveniles displaying at least one firearm.
MTN News has confirmed that no shots have been fired, and all students are safe.
The teacher claimed to have seen the juveniles at Pioneer Park, and said they were headed toward the school, which promoted the lock-down.
Police officers searched the school, and Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said that it is not an active shooter situation.