Palatine councilmen on Monday supported the police department's request to better define the village's ban on discharging air guns, but not before some expressed surprise that their sons might be breaking the law simply by fooling around in the backyard.
"So I just want to make sure, my kid's orange airsoft gun spring loaded is illegal?" Councilman Kollin Kozlowski asked.
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"It's illegal if it's brought outside and fired, yes," Palatine Police Chief John Koziol said.
Palatine already prohibited the discharge of air guns within the village, but the council's unanimous vote to amend the ordinance defined exactly what an air gun is. The term now encompasses any air rifle, air pistol, spring gun, spring pistol, BB gun, paintball gun or pellet gun.
Also included are devices that impel paint balls or pellets with a force "reasonably expected" to cause bodily harm.
Koziol explained that state statute currently prohibits the discharge of air guns on public property. Palatine police -- after a lengthy discussion -- decided to follow the lead of several neighboring communities and go a step further by banning the discharge of guns within the village, period.
"We went round and round on that," Koziol said.
Ultimately, he said, there were too many factors -- including property damage and alarmed neighbors calling police because many air guns are such precise replicas of real firearms -- weighing in favor of the ban. Many kids are painting the orange tips of the guns black for an even more realistic look.
Police also considered making exceptions for air guns that don't meet a certain discharge velocity, but found the ordinance then became too complicated.
Councilman Brad Helms, who said his son also partakes in the activity, was concerned that someone caught discharging an air gun could wind up with an arrest record that doesn't distinguish between firing a real gun.
But Koziol said discharging an air gun is a ticketed offense, so police would issue a citation. There'd be no arrest, processing or fingerprinting.
Koziol also emphasized that in the past five years, he can think of only one instance that resulted in a ticket, and that was because the offenders were shooting at birds. Officers have the discretion to issue a warning, he added.
"I want to stress that 99.9 percent of these are kids who go home with the officer, (who explains) they can't have these things out here," Koziol said.