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Bill to Ban Fake Guns in Public Gets Assembly OK

Lawmaker tells of deputies drawing their guns on his son, who had a fake weapon.

August 19, 2004|Robert Salladay | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — After an Orange County legislator brandished two authentic-looking weapons on the Assembly floor -- causing an uncomfortable flurry among his colleagues -- lawmakers on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill banning fake firearms from being carried in public.

The legislation was built on anecdotes, but tragic ones nonetheless. In various cases, law enforcement officers have killed children and adults who displayed replica or toy guns, thinking they were weapons. Police, sheriffs, district attorneys and gun-control groups supported the bill.

"I can tell you that law enforcement officers are scared to death of actually having to take another person's life," said Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange), who brought the replica guns onto the floor with permission from legislative leaders.

One lawmaker told the story of his 9-year-old son taking a toy handgun to a fast-food restaurant, after painting over the fluorescent-colored tip -- currently required by law -- to make it look authentic. Alarmed restaurant employees called the Sheriff's Department while the boy and his friend were in the restroom.

"When they walked out of the bathroom, the L.A. County [sheriff's deputies were] ... waiting there for them with their guns drawn, prepared to fire," said Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy (R-Monrovia), speaking about his son. "They told me, 'Mr. Mountjoy ... he could have been killed today.' "

In February, a 14-year-old boy in Lakewood was shot and wounded after sheriff's deputies mistakenly thought an Airsoft pellet handgun in his waistband was real.

A Rancho Cucamonga boy was killed in a 1987 incident because officers believed his replica gun was a deadly weapon.

In incidents in homes, a Los Angeles police officer shot and killed Anthony Dwain Lee, 39, after the actor allegedly pointed a replica handgun during a 2000 Halloween party.

In 1983, a Stanton officer shot and killed a 5-year-old boy who was home alone and, the officer thought, pointing a gun at him.

The bill approved Wednesday was not gun-control legislation, but rather toy control. It prohibits the public display of replica and toy guns on streets and frontyards, in plazas, parks, driveways, doorways, vehicles, restaurants and clubs.

The first two violations would be considered infractions, with $100 and $300 fines, and the third would be a misdemeanor.

The measure defines a fake weapon as anything "a reasonable person" would think was a weapon. Water squirt guns and fake weapons that are white, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, pink or purple would be allowed in public.

"The bill does not apply to the very common, brightly colored toy guns that children oftentimes use," said state Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana), author of the measure. "It only applies to those guns that are imitations of already existing real firearms."

Under the legislation, replica or imitation guns could be used for movie and TV productions, as starting guns at sporting events, or for "ceremonial" purposes such as 21-gun salutes at funerals.

Makers of the replica weapons would have to include a warning on packaging or the gun telling people that "displaying the product in public may cause confusion and may be a crime."

The bill, SB 1858, received wide bipartisan support. It was approved 60-2 in the Assembly, sending it back to the Senate for near-certain approval and then to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governor has not taken a position on the bill, but his aides have told lawmakers he looks favorably on legislation with strong Republican and Democratic support.

Before Spitzer began speaking in favor of the measure on the Assembly floor, lawmakers were told he had permission from Democratic and Republican leaders to bring replicas to the chamber. Still, the sight of realistic-looking firearms -- an M60 assault weapon and a 9mm handgun replica supplied by the Department of Justice -- upset some lawmakers, a few of whom moved away from Spitzer and formally objected.

"I think the physical presence was so overwhelming, so ominous and so out of place that people didn't expect it," Spitzer said. "[But] words themselves are insufficient to make the argument I was being asked to make today. It's the weapons that make the argument."

There was no formal opposition to the measure, although Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Murrieta) said he voted against the legislation because he thought it went too far. "Is there an issue? Well, yeah," he said, "but to completely ban anybody carrying [replicas] ... in public, I think, is going overboard."

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