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.
"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.
Evans, whose Senate district includes the southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood where the Lopez family lives, declined several interview requests for this story.
From 2008 to 2011, 354 Californians visited emergency rooms for injuries related to BB or pellet guns, according to state Department of Public Health records. However, no state agency tracks how many people have been wounded or killed by law enforcement in incidents involving such weapons.
There have been a handful of such cases reported around the country. That includes a 15-year-old Texas boy who was fatally shot in 2012 in the hallway at his middle school and a 12-year-old Arkansas boy who was shot dead in a darkened lot.
The 2010 shooting of a 13-year-old boy in Los Angeles sparked the most recent efforts to enact BB-gun legislation in California. The boy was paralyzed from the neck down as a result of being shot by a police officer, whose life also was changed by the event.
"You definitely don't want the shooting of a 13-year-old boy on your conscience for the rest of your life, even if you were trained to respond to the situation," said Los Angeles Police Detective Richard Tompkins, who oversees the agency's gun unit.