SACRAMENTO — An attempt by Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti to ban the manufacture and sale in California of toy guns that look like real firearms was sidetracked in the Senate on Thursday in the face of election-year opposition from the National Rifle Assn.
On a 21-15 vote, the upper chamber defeated a provision of the "urgency" bill that would have made it take effect immediately if signed by Gov. George Deukmejian. Urgency bills require at least 27 favorable votes.
However, Roberti said he will amend the bill next week so that it can be passed by a simple majority of 21 in the 40-member house. If ultimately enacted, it would become law Jan. 1.
Roberti contended during debate that such legislation would make California safer because law enforcement officers would be less likely to mistakenly shoot children they believed to be armed with real guns. In recent years, several youngsters have been accidentally killed by officers who thought they were threatening them with actual firearms.
Among other things, the bill would add a 3-month term in jail to an existing law that makes it a misdemeanor to brandish a replica firearm. It also would outlaw the manufacture, sale or distribution of look-alike toy guns and make violators subject to a civil fine of up to $10,000.
The legislation is supported by Los Angeles television personality David Horowitz who was held hostage on the air last fall by a man brandishing a look-alike toy pistol.
After the Horowitz incident, several cities, including Burbank, Los Angeles and Santa Monica, enacted local ordinances that prohibit the manufacture and sale of realistic toy guns. The Roberti bill would preempt the local laws.
It would not, however, prohibit mail-order purchase of replica firearms from out-of-state firms because there is no federal ban on replicas and the state is powerless to interfere with use of the postal system to mail them.
Opponents of the legislation include the politically influential National Rifle Assn.; manufacturers of air, paint and BB guns, and the Gun Owners of California, headed by Sen. H. L. Richardson (R-Glendora), the Legislature's most outspoken defender of firearm ownership.
He charged the bill represented part of a "nationally orchestrated piece of action against the sporting/gun community" and asserted it would outlaw BB guns in California, which he said are important training tools in the teaching of young people to properly use real guns.
"Every guy in this room has had one," Richardson said of BB guns.
"We guys are concerned about kids too," Roberti snarled back, asserting that realistic toys are not necessary to teach youngsters about guns. "We are not trying in any way to ban somebody's gun. We have a special responsibility to protect kids."
Roberti conceded BB guns would be prohibited if they looked like actual firearms. Richardson asked how they could be made to look otherwise, and Roberti shot back, "Paint it chartreuse and make it fatter."
Roberti conceded in advance that he could not round up 27 votes for the bill, particularly in an election year when senators wanted no part of a fight with the activist NRA, whose estimated 300,000 members in California are presumably in every legislative district.
When it became clear that the measure would not win approval Thursday, several lawmakers who had abstained jumped on the roll call as "no" votes so that they could be recorded publicly in this election year as opposing the bill.
'Intensity of Intimidation'
One veteran legislator, who voted against the bill, told reporters privately that the "intensity of intimidation" of NRA members on gun issues can be so formidable that reelection-conscious legislators who might actually favor the legislation would vote against it.
Richardson said he would try to rewrite the Roberti bill next week with a series of amendments.