Bill to Regulate Toy Guns Advances in CA Senate

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

SANTA ROSA, CA – Legislation authored by Senators Kevin De Leόn (D-Los Angeles) and Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) to regulate the appearance of toy, imitation or “copycat” guns passed out of its first policy committee today with a 4-1 vote.  In an effort to stem a reoccurring tragedy involving toys being mistaken for real firearms Senate Bill 199, the Imitation Firearm Safety Act, would amend California law to define what an imitation firearm is and what those imitations must look like to differentiate real guns from fake guns.  Currently, toy guns such as airsoft and bb guns are not included in California’s legal definition of imitation weapons. 

“Children want to play with toys,” said Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) a joint author of the legislation.  “A toy should look like a toy and not a lethal weapon.  Currently these copycat toys are manufactured to be virtually indistinguishable from real firearms.  Toys should not get a child killed.”

Last October in Santa Rosa, 13-year-old Andy Lopez was tragically shot and killed by a Sheriff Deputy who believed the airsoft gun he was carrying was a real AK-47.  In December, Senators De Leόn and Evans committed to introduce a bill to require all BB, pellet and airsoft guns to have their entire exterior surfaces painted a bright color.

“In a stressful situation where it’s a question of using deadly force, police officers are not going to be able to get close enough for a detailed inspection,” said Senator De Leόn.  “These toy guns need some sort of marking that will make them harder to mistake for real firearms.”

A 1990 study commissioned by the Department of Justice found that there are more than 200 incidents per year in which imitation guns are mistaken for real firearms.

According to law enforcement, one of the primary dangers posed by imitation firearms is that such guns are used by children and young adults who may not comprehend the seriousness of displaying them around unsuspecting law enforcement officers or around other armed individuals.  As a result, officers and community residents can find themselves in precarious situations when they are unable to distinguish imitation guns from handguns and assault weapons.

In a similar incident in 2010, a teenager was accidentally shot by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) who misidentified the replica gun he was carrying. The teenager and two of his friends were playing that evening in the middle of a dark street shooting pellets at one another with fake handguns. When the two LAPD officers stopped to investigate, the boys ran away, but one produced a pellet gun that the LAPD officers mistook for a real handgun. A LAPD officer who feared for his life shot the teenager in self-defense. The pellet gun looked identical to a real gun and it even had the exact dimensions of a Beretta 92F.

As a result of this accidental shooting, SB 798 (De León) was introduced in 2011 in collaboration with Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck to require distinguishing colors on BB guns.  This measure would have allowed law enforcement to effectively discriminate between imitation and real firearms. Though the measure failed passage in the Assembly Public Safety Committee, SB 1315 (De León) was signed by Governor Brown last year to allow cities within the County of Los Angeles to enact local ordinances more restrictive than state law regulating the manufacture, sale, possession, or use of any BB device, toy gun, or replica of a firearm that substantially similar to existing firearms (Statutes of 2012, Chapter 214).

State Senator Noreen Evans represents the Second Senatorial District, including all or portions of the Counties of Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Marin (caretaker), Napa, Solano and Sonoma. Senator Evans chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
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