More than 3 million were sold last year in a trend that is alarming firearms experts, who say many cannot be distinguished from the real thing.
Because most forces tell weapons-trained officers they must treat replicas as real guns, fears are mounting that unnecessary casualties are inevitable.
The number of incidents involving guns is rising. In London alone last year, firearms teams were involved in 561 operations. The Metropolitan Police's Armed Response Vehicles (ARVs) - patrolling police cars containing an armoury, introduced last year - drew firearms on 132 occasions. Shots were fired just once.
In the first six months of 1992, London firearms officers were involved in 350 armed operations, with ARVs drawing firearms on 117 occasions. Shots were fired twice.
Chief Superintendent Rick Johnson, of the force's firearms unit, said: 'If we could have sufficient legislation to stop replica guns being produced, then we would welcome it. But I don't think the Government could ever produce legislation strong enough to stop them. How can you enforce a law which is unenforceable?'