A heated debate has broken out in North Mankato after a 12-year-old boy was ticketed for discharging a firearm after he shot colorful plastic balls out of an air soft gun.
Dyllon Johnston is a typical pre-teen boy who loves playing video games and playing with toy guns -- but in August, he and two other boys were playing with air soft guns at his cousin's house when they all were ticketed.
"We have never gotten in trouble for it," Johnston protested. "We didn't know it was wrong at all."
The toy guns are widely available in stores, and there aren't many restrictions on them. No age requirement, no waiting period. The power of an air soft gun is much lower than a BB or pellet gun, and the range of the plastic BBs is only about a quarter of the distance of a standard metal BB.
"They are just these plastic guns that shoot these colorful plastic balls that don't hurt at all," he explained. "We normally wear safety glasses. You don't get hit in the eye or anything. They are pretty much harmless."
Not everyone seems to think so, however. In 2009, the city of North Mankato expanded its firearm ordinance to prohibit air soft guns -- along with paintball guns and any other device that involves the propulsion of an object by compressed gas or a mechanical spring.
"I had no idea," Johnston told FOX 9 News. "I didn't think it would be that big of a deal that you get cited for shooting a toy gun."
Neither did his dad, who said he knew his son couldn't fire a BB gun in the city but never thought an air soft gun would be a problem.
"I could see why they would want to ban BB guns and pellet guns -- but a plastic, toy gun?" Mike Johnston said.
The Johnstons say they do not blame the officer for enforcing current law, but the family does want the law changed because they don't think the penalty for firing a gun should carry the same penalty as playing with a toy.
Mike Johnston told FOX 9 News his son has never been in trouble before, but he now fears a misdemeanor like this could cost him is ability to enlist in the military or go to college.
"I don't want this in his record," Johnston said. "I don't want this impacting his life as he's becoming an adult.
The mayor, police chief and city attorney in North Mankato all declined comment for this story, but the city is not the only one with this type of ordinance; however, the City Council may revisit the ordinance at the end of the year.