Grand Rapids Police investigating string of airsoft gun drive-by shootings

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—Police are looking for suspects involved in shooting people with airsoft guns in downtown Grand Rapids.

Experts say guns like airsoft and paintball guns are perfectly safe as long as you use them with the right supervision and equipment. Rick Steinebach, owner of TC Paintball and an avid paintball and airsoft gun user, says it's not just a game to him, it’s his passion.

Steinebach says paintball and airsoft are great for team and strategy building, and is upset at the local airsoft  drive-by shootings because it disrespects what the sport is supposed to be about.

“It makes me angry because whenever we make the news like that it's bad news for facilities like us,” said Steinebach.

Steinebach says there needs to be regulations and supervision, and he says playing with toy guns at home or in public shouldn’t be done.

“I discourage it. When you go to someone's backyard it's something new and not everyone is focused on how dangerous it can be,” said Steinebach.

Rick says an airsoft gun can leave more of a painful welt than a paintball gun.

“The pellets in airsoft guns are designed to bounce off and when they bounce off they leave a little bit more of an impact than when they break on contact so the smaller airsoft pellet can hurt more than paintball,” he said.

An airsoft gun won't kill you on impact but it's dangerous when a person isn't protected.

“A participant is more than likely 99.9% of the time going home with a welt or maybe more,” he said.

But players at his facility have protection, unlike the citizens who've been targeted. And you can get these guns almost anywhere at your local Meijer, Dick’s Sporting Goods, even Toys R Us.

“Airsoft isn't nearly as regulated as paintball guns, so you can get one as an afterthought in a store on your way out. When you do that you don't think about, where am I going to shoot it? Who am I going to shoot it with? How dangerous is it?

The suspects Grand Rapids police are looking for remain on the loose, and even though they weren’t real guns involved, police are still taking it very seriously.

“Some issues that seem to be a nuisance or lower level can escalate extremely quickly, and get out of the control of the individuals responsible for it. You can see in the world we have today holding a toy gun out a window and shooting rounds at somebody could very quickly result in people holding real guns in return,” said Lt. Patrick Merrill with Grand Rapids Police Department.

There have been four police reports on Sunday and Monday of random citizens getting shot in public place. People like Rick who see those guns as a competitive sport are hoping these suspects get caught.

“It’s not a place for toy guns. Using them in public is the wrong place for it,” Steinebach.

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