Shooting of Andy Lopez ignites debate over realistic airsoft guns

  • Participants prepare to battle with Airsoft guns at Playland in Cotati on Saturday, November 9, 2013. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

The shooting death of a 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy has reignited a national debate on the wisdom of manufacturing BB, pellet and airsoft guns to look like firearms, and whether new laws or bans are needed to prevent future tragedy.

Critics have long argued that statutes governing what are variously described as "look-alike" or "imitation" firearms sow confusion and do little to protect the public and police.

Lawmakers and gun control advocates across California are now focusing on the death of Andy Lopez as they weigh whether to renew their push for more stringent regulations. Lopez was shot and killed Oct. 22 by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy who reportedly mistook the teen's BB-style gun for an assault rifle.

Airsoft Guns At Cotati's Playland


"The tragic reality is that there will be more Andy Lopezes as long as these guns are manufactured to look like the real thing," said state Sen. Kevin de Le?, D-Los Angeles.

De Le? said in a recent interview that he wanted to consult with fellow lawmakers, including state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, before he decides whether to introduce new legislation in January.

The senator's previous attempt to get passage of a law requiring BB guns to be painted a certain color was opposed by gun manufacturers and the gun lobby on the grounds that the state law would violate federal statutes and be akin to a ban.

Ryan Podesta, who owns Thirty First Outfitters and Playland in Cotati, said kids want BB guns that look like the real thing, and that they'll simply modify the weapons if the law changes.

"John Wayne didn't have a pink rifle. Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't carry an orange machine gun," Podesta said. "Our military and heroes and our troops that we're supporting and who kids look up to ... they're not carrying around Day-Glo weapons."

He called the response to Lopez's death a "knee-jerk reaction" to a "terrible incident."

But Sonoma County officials, including Sheriff Steve Freitas, signaled support for the color changes. "Anything that can help prevent things like this from happening I would support," Freitas said in reference to Lopez's death.

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