Gel guns may seem harmless.
Although they can be shaped to look like rifles, AK-47s, or Glocks, many are brightly colored like toys, with red or blue flourishes on black or Creamsicle-style orange and white.
The guns – which go by several names, such as Gel Blasters, Bead Blasters or Orbi guns – fire gel beads ranging from 6 to 8 millimeters, are soaked in water and splatter on impact.
Touted as a safer alternative to paintball or airsoft guns, gel guns have grown in popularity with those looking to play tactical games, usually with protective clothing and masks.
But guns have also gained notoriety in recent months thanks to a TikTok social media trend called “#OrbeezChallenge,” in which users are encouraged to shoot people or stationary objects in a “drive-by style.” and post the video.
Police across the country reported shootings involving firearms, some of which resulted in injuries. Ramapo police say one such incident, in which a person was shot in the face with a gel gun, occurred on Sunday and led to the arrest of a 16-year-old boy for attempted assault and other charges.
Although firearms are not illegal statewide, they are not allowed in some areas because they may qualify as air rifles.
Here’s what you need to know about gel guns:
How do gel guns work?
Soft gel pellets, often known by the brand name Orbeez, which sold them as part of science toys, are a super absorbent polymer. When dry they are small, but can grow 100 to 300 times their original size when soaked in water. They are non-lethal and non-toxic.
Guns tend to be powered by rechargeable batteries, rather than firearms or the compressed gas of a paintball gun.
The pellets are supposed to bounce off the bodies or just disintegrate, leaving no stains, mess or stings, said Rockland Sheriff’s Office Detective Lt. Chris Ford, director of the Rockland Intelligence Center, noting that they can always cause injury, especially at close range.
Videos online show that pellets can leave a welt but seem to have less impact than metal BBs or plastic airsoft pellets. However, police say they can still scare or annoy people, or cause damage if someone gets hit in the eye or falls off guard, and many have started freezing the beads.
“They can be great fun for kids in play areas or around the yard, but can be dangerous when used unsupervised,” Ford said. “According to the literature, projectiles are somewhat slower than AirSoft guns and far less dangerous than air rifles or BB guns.”
Are gel guns legal?
Sergeant Ramapo. Michael Higgins said gel guns are basically children’s toys. They can be purchased on Amazon or through several other online or physical stores.
“People shoot them like a paintball gun and they splatter on impact,” Higgins said.
Gel guns and similars are legal in New York State for people over the age of 16.
That doesn’t mean they can be used everywhere.
Firearms are illegal in New York, according to the NYPD, noting that the beads are propelled by a spring-loaded air pump, making them an air rifle.
Counties can also make individual laws prohibiting them or air rifles in certain areas. In Rockland, they are banned in parks and on county property.
State law requires that replica firearms have a brightly colored stem or features to indicate to police and the public that it is not a firearm.
Rockland District Attorney’s Office Chief of Detectives Peter Walker said the use of gel guns, while apparently popular, does not appear to be criminally widespread in Rockland.
“I think it’s fair to say we haven’t really seen a pattern develop,” Walker said.
What happened in Ramapo?
Ford said the Rockland Intelligence Unit, working from a license plate, helped Ramapo detectives track down the suspected gel gun shooter and his friends who shot a man, a Jew Hasidic, in the face at 2:20 a.m. on July 31.
Decatur Avenue branching off Maple Avenue in Ramapo borders Spring Valley and Monsey. In recent years, Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish residents have moved into the neighborhood.
Ramapo detectives – with the assistance of a member of the Chaverim of Rockland Neighborhood Watch – “determined that three minors were out for a ride. A passenger in the car was shooting trash cans with a gel gun and also struck a pedestrian in the face with a gel projectile.
Higgins said officers arrested a 16-year-old Spring Valley youth on felony charges of attempted second degree assault, misdemeanor second degree reckless endangerment and fourth degree criminal possession of a weapon. The case is being handled in Rockland Family Court, police said.
The incident followed a July 17 drive-by attack on Hasidic Jews walking the streets. Police arrested four people who were in a van, accused of firing a BB gun and throwing eggs at walkers. Hasidic and Orthodox Jews – who are distinguished by their clothing – have become targets repeatedly in Rockland and New York as reported anti-Semitic attacks have increased.
The four people charged – two are 19, one is 18 and the other is 17 – have been charged with a hate crime, Higgins said.
“The only people in the little stretch were dressed in religious clothing and the teenagers had no reason to be in the area,” Higgins said.
Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police and investigations. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lohudlegal.
Read more articles and bio. Our local coverage is only possible with the support of our readers.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Gel guns, infamous on TikTok, raise concern for Ramapo after incident