A shop owner says he will continue to sell replica guns in his store – despite calls urging them to be banned and an increase in anti-social behaviour in the town.
Vishal Wadhwa owns Trade Counter in Sittingbourne High Street which replaced the former Burton store in March.
As well as selling home accessories and electrical products, the shop has a range of Airsoft guns on display.
With several arrests in recent weeks after reports of imitation firearms in town centres, one resident raised concerns about the display.
He said:“I was disgusted to see them in the window of the shop in the old Burton's premises.
“How the hell is this allowed?”
The imitation firearms have a range of about 45m and use plastic bullets, as opposed to the small metal ones often used in BB guns.
Air rifles such as these have recently been used to injure and kill cats in the town.
However, Mr Wadhwa is remaining defiant and says he has no intention of removing them from his shop.
The 41-year-old said: “Do I think it is a sensible idea to sell guns? If I am allowed to sell them, then why not?
"We keep them behind the tills so we decide who we sell the guns to and who not to sell the guns to.
"We were asked by customers about them. We do not sell them to anyone under 18-years-old, but if an adult decides to give them to a child then it is not our fault."
It is an offence to sell an air weapon to anyone under the age of 18 and you do not need a certificate to own one.
It is also an offence to fire an air weapon without lawful authority or excuse within 15 metres of the centre of a public road in a way that could injure, interrupt or put someone in danger or with the intent to damage or to destroy property.
The Gun Control Network, the UK’s first gun control organisation set up after the Dunblane tragedy in 1996, says more needs to be done to prevent these products being legal to buy.
The group’s chairman, Gill Marshall-Andrews, said: “These weapons are completely legal and unregulated.
“No-one seems to know what’s going on but the fact that imitations of all kinds are now the weapon of choice for criminals should be raising alarm bells.
“We do not sell them to anyone under 18-years-old, but if an adult decides to give them to a child then it is not our fault...”
“We need a proper analysis of the situation by police and the Home Office — and we need it urgently.
“The weapons are frequently more than one joule in power, which means they are officially classified as ‘lethal’, so why aren’t they subject to the same restrictions as other lethal or imitation guns?
“This loophole in the law needs to be closed as public safety should take a higher priority.”
Sarah Mitchell, whose car window was smashed last month following a catapult attack in Taillour Close, believes the products should be limited to where they are sold.
“These kind of things should be sold in specialist shops and forbidden elsewhere,” the 52-year-old said.
“I think we’ve seen so many incidents lately involving weapons here, that it will take somebody to die before serious action is taken.
“A lot of kids are carrying things with them at the minute which is already hard to police, so the fact you can shoot these things and they can spray everywhere is worrying.”
The sale of the imitation firearms have added to fears over anti-social behaviour from teens in the town.
In recent months, a mobile CCTV unit was set up outside Morrisons where trolleys, bollards and eggs had been stolen, a shop assistant reportedly wrenched a knife out of a schoolboy's hands and four teenagers were arrested after vapes were stolen and a shop worker was assaulted.
Mr Wadhwa has also had issues with teens in his store.
He said:“We have made complaints to the police in the past and they have come straight away.
“We have only been here two months but I am a bit surprised about how bad it is here. It is intimidating.
“When kids are swearing, smoking and spitting it makes people feel really uncomfortable.
“They have tried to push us around if we stop them at the door.
“They have asked to buy knives in the past. Why do they want to buy knives?”
Ellie Warwick, general manager of TJ’s E-Cigarettes, has caught children trying to shoplift and put in new measures to protect the store.
She said: “It is frustrating as we want to make sure our members of staff are safe but when the kids threaten them at work it has a massive impact on them.
“We have implemented magnetic locks on our doors, panic alarms and a strict challenge 25 policy.
Dispersal orders have been put in place for the area over recent weekends to try and reduce the amount of anti-social behaviour in the town.
Inspector Vanessa Foster from Swale’s neighbourhood task force said: “Anti-social behaviour is often caused by a minority but can affect a whole community.
“We are aware of concerns from local stakeholders and residents who have reported a recent increase in nuisance behaviour in the area. We have been working closely with partner agencies, including local schools, to ensure there is a joined-up approach in tackling the issue.
“Additionally, we have implemented two dispersal orders over the past two weekends, which gave our officers additional powers to move anyone on who was deemed to be causing ASB.
“Throughout June we will have a dedicated team of officers patrolling the area and we will not hesitate to put dispersal orders in place once again should they be needed.
“Anybody who wishes to report instances of anti-social behaviour should report it online via the Kent Police website. If a crime is in progress, please don’t hesitate to call 999.”