SACRAMENTO — Last year’s fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez prompted state lawmakers Thursday to approve a bill requiring bright markings on air guns similar to the one the boy was carrying when he was shot and killed by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy.
Lopez was killed Oct. 22 as he walked along Moorland Avenue in an unincorporated part of Santa Rosa by Deputy Erick Gelhaus, who reportedly mistook the boy’s BB gun for a real AK-47. The shooting, as well as District Attorney Jill Ravitch’s decision not to file charges against Gelhaus, prompted weeks of protests through the streets of Santa Rosa and at city and county government buildings.
“Had this bill been law, I believe he would be alive today,” said Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, a sponsor of the bill. “The bottom line is that a toy should look like a toy, and a toy should not get a child killed.”
SB199 would apply to guns that fire pellets or BBs that are six millimeters or eight millimeters. They would have to have brightly colored surfaces or prominent fluorescent strips.
The bill passed the Senate on a 22-12 party-line vote and goes to the governor. Republican lawmakers objected, saying criminals could simply paint real guns to confuse police.
“Criminals will be painting up all kinds of dangerous weapons,” said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. “It’s another way to disarm the law-abiding citizens. . . . Be aware of unintended consequences.”
Moreover, some real weapons are now manufactured in bright colors, said Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine.
“Women like pink pistols. It appeals to their feminine side, I’ve been told,” Anderson said.
He and Republican Sen. Steve Knight of Palmdale, a former Los Angeles police officer, said painted guns would be enough to confuse police officers for crucial seconds while they decide whether to shoot.
The only real solution, said Anderson, is for parents to teach children, “Don’t wave a weapon at law enforcement, whether it’s real or unreal.”