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Ready, fire, aim -- BB gun law misses the real target

August 24, 2012|By Patt Morrison
  • Gregory Hershberger with a BB gun during a Family Days event in Pennsylvania.
Gregory Hershberger with a BB gun during a Family Days event in Pennsylvania. (John Rucosky / Associated…)

The California state Senate has once again painted a big ol’ ‘’mock me’’ target on its back by passing a piece of legislation that could bill parents as much as two hundred bucks if their kids show off a BB gun in public.

The bill, by Santa AnaDemocratic assemblyman Jose Solorio, requires parents to keep BB guns secure, and if a kid flashes one around at school or anywhere else in public, the parents had better start writing a check for $100 to pay the fine.

So you’re thinking, a BB gun? Really? Like the Red Ryder model that Ralphie wants as a gift in the nifty film ‘’A Christmas Story’’ [and then promptly almost shoots his eye out, as his mother predicted]? A gun not unlike the air rifles that Jack Finch, brother to Atticus, gave to Atticus’ children, Jem and Scout, in the novel ‘’To Kill a Mockingbird’’?

Yes, that kind of BB gun.

Yet BB guns can get people in as much trouble as real guns. A Glendale man was arrested this week for shooting at a police helicopter with a BB gun. In Anaheim, a few days before, two men were arrested after a third was sent to the hospital after being shot in the shoulder by a BB gun.

But wait, as Ron Popeil would say -- there’s more.

Part of the reason the Legislature is reduced to such feeble measures as this is because real, substantive, serious gun legislation doesn’t stand a chance against gun lobbying, even inCalifornia’s supposedly uber-blue Legislature.


Gun laws passed in the wake of the assassinations of the 1960s have expired, and no one has been able to bring them back. One of them was California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s landmark 1994 assault weapons ban, enacted a year after a man killed eight people in a downtownSan Francisco office with just such a weapon.



California legislators had already written on that page, outlawing those weapons several years before. In 1989, a man shot up aStocktonschoolyard with an AK-47, killing five schoolchildren and wounding at least two dozen more. When the killer was 13, he was such a menace that sheriff’s deputies confiscated his BB gun.

Governor Gray Davis strengthened the state’s gun laws a few years later.


Californiaalso pioneered the requirement that most realistic-looking toy guns and ‘’imitation firearms’’ be painted in bright hues like psychedelic orange or neon green so that they’re not mistaken for the real thing.

In 1983, in the Orange County city ofStanton, a police officer shot and killed a five-year-old boy in a darkened apartment. He had gone to check on the boy’s welfare, because the child had missed ten days of school. [His mother had left him alone because she could not afford a baby sitter.] When the officer stepped into the apartment, he saw someone pointing a gun at him. The someone turned out to be the child, and the gun turned out to be a toy. 


As far as the BB bill goes, one Republican legislator, Sen. Doug LaMalfa of Richvale, said it’s too proscriptive. ‘’Back in my day,’’ he said, "you could jump on your bike in the morning with your BB gun and drive all around the neighborhood or up through the hills and do what you do, a little plinking here and there, and it wouldn’t hurt anybody now at this point we’re going to make criminals out of people for not properly storing a BB gun.”

All of us have ‘’back in my days’’ memories of less harrowing times – but back in those days, no one was shooting up schoolyards or office buildings with assault rifles, either.

And that’s what creates the paradox of the BB gun bill: if legislators could bring themselves to pass stronger laws regulating real guns, then BB guns and kids’ toy guns wouldn’t have to bear the regulatory burden of that huge legislative hole that should be filled with laws pertaining to actual firearms. If we could be pretty certain, as we were ‘’back in the day,’’ that it really was just a BB gun that kid was carrying, because no one could legally get his hands on a real assault weapon, then kids might be freer to jump on their bikes and ride through the hills doing a little plinking.

I’m partial to Chris Rock’s suggestion that we don’t need gun control – we need bullet control, that a single bullet should cost $5,000, and that a man bent on shooting someone would threaten to blow the guy’s head off -- once he got a second job and saved enough money to buy the ammo.

Maybe the Legislature can do something absurdly effective. It could use the toy-gun law model to require instead that all real guns, from revolvers to semi-automatic weapons, be psychedelic orange or neon green or – oh yes, I really like this one – hot pink.


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