Victoria police laid its cards on the table for a show-and-tell style media opportunity Thursday.
Real and replica firearms mingled on a table and journalists were invited to discern the real from the replica with an opportunity to pick up, operate and handle weapons seized throughout the last year.
VicPD officers seized an average of eight firearms per month in 2022.
Over the last five years, it’s almost like clockwork, one real, one replica every week, says spokesperson Bowen Osoko. And the difference can sometimes be quite difficult to tell.
Department statistics show real firearms outstripped replica firearms in 2018 – of the 85 total 63 were real, in 2019 of the 111 in total 75 were real. The next year, when the pandemic began, of 100 total 47 were real and 53 fake, with a similar split in 2021 with 57 real firearms and 58 fake.
A theory from the analysis intelligence section is that the shift came about as people stockpiled creating hardship accessing real weapons, Osoko said. In 2022 real firearms retook the lead, edging ahead with 56 real and 43 replica firearms seized in Victoria.
Media were escorted into a safe room at VicPD headquarters on Feb. 9 to determine which of a series of seized firearms was a real, functional firearm and not a realistic replica.
Under the watchful eye of VicPD firearms instructor and Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team member Const. Kale Howe, Black Press Media reporter Austin Westphal fared well weeding the real from replicas. But even after holding and inspecting, didn’t quite manage to hit 100 per cent.
“Unless there’s really compelling information that would tell me it’s not real, I have to treat it as real,” said Howe, whose own old glock handgun lay among the trio of real firearms. He said some people will go so far as to paint orange tips on a functioning firearm to mimic an air soft rifle.
“When a search warrant happens and we celebrate seizing a firearm, we don’t live in a reality where ‘we got the last gun on earth.’ They’re still out there. They’re still coming in from the (United) States, they’re still being stolen, they’re still being trafficked and replicas just add to this total number of potential encounters with police where you have to treat them as real.”