BB guns and pellet guns would have to look clearly different from those that fire bullets if manufacturers want to sell them in California under a bill approved Tuesday by the state Senate in response to several recent shootings involving children.
Senators approved the Imitation Firearm Safety Act on a party-line 22-8 vote, although several senators from each party did not vote. It now goes to the Assembly.
SB199 advanced in the wake of the October fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez in the Bay Area city of Santa Rosa, when a sheriff's deputy mistook the boy's "airsoft" rifle for a real AK-47. Airsoft guns are replica firearms that fire plastic pellets, paper balls or eraser chunks.
"The tragedy has rocked Santa Rosa and Sonoma County to its very core," said Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, a co-author of the bill. "A toy should look like a toy. A toy should not get a child killed."
Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, unsuccessfully introduced a similar bill in 2011 after another 13-year old, Rohayent Gomez, was shot and left a paraplegic when Los Angeles police thought his replica firearm was a real weapon.
De Leon's new bill would require that BB, pellet and airsoft guns sold in the state be painted bright colors or be made transparent to distinguish them from real weapons.
"Law enforcement officers have extreme difficulty — extreme difficulty — in distinguishing between the real thing and what is fake ... especially when officers must make a split-second decision in a very dangerous situation," de Leon said.
He added later, "This is about saving lives."
More than 200 such shootings occur each year across the country, he said, citing a 1990 U.S. Department of Justice study.
Several Republicans objected that the bill could endanger police officers because some real guns are now manufactured in different colors to appeal to consumers including children.
Smith & Wesson, for instance, makes several handguns with pink hand grips to appeal to women.
Another manufacturer, Keystone Sporting Arms, makes rifles designed for use by children that are colored hot pink, royal blue and with multicolor swirls.
The legislation is opposed by the Airsoft Safety Foundation, as well as several organizations representing gun owners and retailers.
The Associated Press