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Pending Michigan bill would criminalize alteration of fake guns

Possessing imitation firearms altered to look like authentic guns could result in real consequences if pending legislation in Michigan is passed.

The bill, S.B. 779, which could be voted upon in the Senate as early as Thursday, would amend Michigan the law to penalize the use of an imitation firearm in a crime if its required colored markings are removed, disguised or concealed. If passed, the bill would also ban real firearms from being doctored to look like a toy.

The sponsor of S.B. 779, state Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, said an updated version of his bill does not criminalize mere possession of altered imitation guns, but rather possession of them in commission of a crime.

"There's a lot of support for it," he told FoxNews.com. "We're not trying to go after kids with this, we're trying to make them safe."

Republican State Sen. Rick Jones, who is sponsoring a related bill that bans brandishing a real or fake gun in public, said the legislation is necessary because an imitation gun can be easily mistaken for the real thing if it does not have colored markings -- typically bright orange -- on the tip of its barrel.

"We're not talking about a child's toy," Jones told FoxNews.com. "These new imitation guns they make look exactly like a real gun. And if the orange tip is cut off, to everyone around them, they're going to look like a real gun."

Jones, who is sponsoring S.B. 780 -- which bans brandishing altered imitation handguns -- said fake guns are growing in prevalence among gangs, particularly in Southeast Michigan. 

Hopgood has cited a close call in Taylor, Mich., in which young teenagers playing with fake guns a few years ago prompted some -- including responding police officers  -- to believe the guns were real.

Taylor Police Chief Dale Tamsen, meanwhile, has testified in support of the legislation, saying that tampering with an imitation firearm can make it "virtually impossible" to distinguish them from authentic handguns.

More recently, in Warren, Mich., an 8- and 10-year-old boy robbed five elementary school students of candy and chips while using a fake gun. No one was injured in the December incident, but at least one victim reportedly told police they thought the toy gun was real.

Changing the language to impose penalties only when the fake gun is part of a crime was critical to Steve Dulan, a member of the board of directors at the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, who said the previous version criminalized "essentially innocent" behavior of mere possession of a fake.

"It's mostly done by children or young adults who are really just playing games," Dulan told FoxNews.com. "I don't think those are the kinds of people who are going to consider the law before they do it, not to mention we've already got large numbers of replicas out there without those orange tips."

An official at the National Rifle Association said the group is not taking a position on the legislation.

Elsewhere in the state, no indications exist that the usage of fake guns is on the rise in Detroit, Officer Phillip Cook told FoxNews.com.

If passed, anyone who possesses an altered imitation firearm and uses it to commit a misdemeanor would be punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a $100 fine. Those penalties would increase to 18 months and $10,000, respectively, if the altered imitation gun was used to commit a felony.