Starter pistols are specially designed or modified handguns, usually small revolvers, that are constructed to prevent them from firing an actual projectile while still producing a realistic sound of a gun going off. Starter pistols are typically used at track and field events to signal the start of a race. Instead of real bullets starter pistols file blanks or use specially made caps. Since they do not fire bullets, starter pistols are generally not classed weapons but because they look like real guns they occupy a grey area in the law.
State law in Connecticut does not specifically address starter pistols and their possession and sale are not regulated in the way that actual firearms are. You do not need a special permit to carry a starter pistol in the state and there are no specific restrictions on buying or selling them. Under federal law all starter pistols sold in the United States must have a bright orange cap on the end of the barrel so they can be easily distinguished from a real gun. A few states, like Michigan, ban removing the orange cap but Connecticut law does not.
Although the term "starter pistol" does not appear in Connecticut law, they do fall under the general category of facsimile (replica) firearms, which are covered by one section of the state law governing rifles and handguns. The law says that "sale, carrying and brandishing of facsimile firearms is prohibited," and any person who violates any provision of the section is guilty of a class B misdemeanour. A facsimile of a firearm is defined in state law as "any nonfunctional imitation of an original firearm which was manufactured, designed and produced since 1898," or "any nonfunctional representation of a firearm other than an imitation of an original firearm, provided such representation could reasonably be perceived to be a real firearm."
In April, 2010 a local man got in trouble with police after he brought a starter pistol into a bank in the town of Portsmouth. According to an article in the Foster's Daily Democrat newspaper, employees of the Portsmouth Bank of America called police after they noticed the man carrying a gun into the bank. Several police officers responded to the call. Although the officials noted that the gun turned out to be "some sort of starter pistol" and the man had not made any threats, he was charged with disorderly conduct.
In another case, a convicted felon was found guilty of violating two federal laws: "unlawful possession of a firearm as a previously convicted felon" and "being a career criminal in possession of a firearm," even though the firearm in question was a starter pistol which could not fire bullets. The reasoning in this case centred on the ease with which a starter pistol can be turned into a functional weapon. At the trial, expert witnesses testified that the modifications could be done in less than an hour, using a hacksaw and a hand-held power tool.
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