ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - Albuquerque Police are facing a growing problem. Is the gun a person is carrying, real or fake?
Wednesday, a man with an airsoft gun caused a scare near two Albuquerque schools, and it's just one of many, very real looking airsoft guns officers have come across.
Wednesday morning near Eubank and I-40, a 911 call came in that put people on alert.
"I just saw somebody coming out from the freeway with an assault riffle on their back... and they're headed towards that school," said the caller.
Tomasita Elementary and Kennedy Middle School were locked down.
"People were very concerned, as they should be. We were flooded with 911 calls," said Albuquerque Police Department Officer Simon Drobik.
Officer Drobik said when officers located the man, they found he was actually carrying an airsoft gun, which shoots plastic pellets.
"We have to treat these like it's an actual weapon because we never know," said Officer Drobik.
The man did nothing wrong and was free to go, but we've seen before the scare airsoft guns can cause.
"I just heard gunshots," said a 911 caller in 2014, when Andrew Godsey sent people in the area of Eubank and Southern in a panic, after he was seen walking around with two very real looking airsoft guns.
In January 2018, police were involved in a seven-hour SWAT standoff with Benjamin Cano, who was armed. They didn't find out until later that it was an airsoft.
Police say incidents like these have turned deadly in other parts of the country.
"We'll get officer-involved shootings with individuals with airsoft guns because they look so real," said Officer Drobik.
KRQE News 13 took pictures of an airsoft gun and a real gun to show to the public, to see if they could tell the difference.
"They look pretty real," said one man.
Another man said, "It's just the clips are the same size, so that's I think what's hard to tell."
Like many other people, they too were stumped. Everyone who KRQE News 13 spoke to thought the airsoft gun was a real assault rifle. Police say that's why they have to be so careful.
Airsoft guns are sold with an orange tip at the end of the gun, but that cap can easily be removed.
Police say criminals sometimes take off those caps and put them on real guns to throw off officers.
People can't use an airsoft gun while committing a crime without consequences. If a fake gun is used as a tool to threaten someone and is perceived as a real weapon by the victim, it's treated the same way as if the criminal had a real gun.