Toy guns that look just like the real thing may be fun for kids, but they are posing real problems for South Florida law enforcement, and when used in a crime, the consequences can be very real.
Whether it's a handgun or an automatic weapon, chances are there is a replica that doesn't have any firepower at all. As seen in a stash of fake guns recovered in North Miami over the past year, besides the look, they have the weight and grip of real weapons.
"You don't know these guns are fake until you actually handle them, until you actually pick them up," said Natalie Buissereth of the North Miami Police Department. "No one here can just pick up a gun and know that they're fake. So that's the problem, we have a split-second to make a decision that is potentially life or death. But it's your life or somebody else's life."
And that could mean life or death for police officers and the people they encounter. It happened in Ohio last year when an officer opened fire on a 12-year-old who had a fake gun. The child later died.
"They look very very real. Something that is pulled in a split second with an officer, they're really not going to be able to distinguish if a gun is a real gun," said North Miami Police Major Ann Marie Cardona.
Just last Thursday, North Miami Police had an incident that could have ended deadly. The crime suppression unit spotted a group of minors ages 12 to 14 acting suspiciously outside a Chase Bank. Two boys appeared to be on the lookout, the other two had what appeared to be guns.
"As they continued to watch them, they discovered that one of them was armed, he actually had a gun in his waistband like this," Buissereth said. "So when he lifted his shirt or did some movement they noticed that he was armed."
With a Brinks armored truck on the corner and customers going in and out of the bank, the police didn't want to take any chances and moved in on the "armed" kids.
"As they take the kids down, the kid pulled a gun from his waist and threw it into the street. Fortunately our officers with their training they were able to not hurt anyone," said Buissereth.
In this case, restraint paid off. The guns the kids were carrying were fake, but what their intentions were at the time is still unknown.
"Some of them know very well that they're fake and they're going out utilizing these tools to commit crimes," said Cardona.
Too many times police say they have encountered similar situations and one day it could turn deadly, and their use of force would be justified.
Even to a trained eye it's very hard to tell if a gun is real or fake, especially in a hostile situation.
As for the kids busted at the Chase bank, instead of arresting them, officers chose to educate them on the dangers of using toy guns.