Following a tragic incident in Northern California where police fatally shot a teenager whose pellet gun was mistaken for an assault weapon, questions are being raised over the National Rifle Association's role in blocking a 2011 state legislative proposal to require BB and pellet guns to be brightly colored in order to avoid confusion.
On October 22, 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot seven times by a sheriff's deputy in Santa Rosa, California. The deputy, identified by media as a "gun expert", apparently believed that the pellet gun Lopez carried was an AK-47 assault weapon. Indeed, an image from a law enforcement press conference taken by The Press Democrat demonstrates the similarity between the pellet gun and an assault weapon. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department also released a photo of the pellet gun Lopez was carrying:
Photo Credit: Sonoma County Sheriff's Department
The tragic shooting, now under investigation by the FBI, could have been avoided if the NRA did not block a 2011 legislative proposal in California that would have required pellet and BB guns to be brightly colored to avoid confusion with real firearms. The NRA used its lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislative Action, to fearmonger about the proposal, while NRA News repeatedly hosted an NRA lobbyist to attack the bill.
The 2011 proposal, Senate Bill 798, was sponsored by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) who said the goal of the legislation was "preventing tragic accidents, especially the shooting of minors and young adults, by law enforcement officers."
As a legislative analysis of the bill explained, the proposal was requested by Los Angeles law enforcement and followed "[t]he shooting of a 13-year-old Glassell Park boy carrying what turned out to be a pellet gun by a Los Angeles Police Department officer." The Los Angeles Times reported that in December 2010 a 13-year-old boy was shot and seriously wounded during a confrontation with police who believed that the pellet gun he possessed was a real handgun.
On June 17, 2011, the NRA-ILA sent an alert, telling its members to contact legislators and express opposition to S.B. 798 and two other gun-related bills. NRA-ILA claimed that the coloring requirements and civil penalty for selling non-complaint BB and pellet guns meant that the bill "will ban the sale of all air guns, BB guns and airsoft guns unless the manufacturer is willing to take on the extra expense of complying with California's (the only state) new law."
During 2011, NRA News frequently hosted the NRA's California lobbyist, Ed Worley, to attack the bill -- which he misleadingly termed an "imitation gun ban" -- and suggest that it would violate federal law. After the legislation stalled for a final time in September 2011, Worley gave the NRA credit, stating, "We stopped the imitation BB gun ban."
During a July 5, 2011, appearance on NRA News, Worley claimed that the legislation was defective because it would be preempted by a federal law that regulates the placement of orange plastic tips on imitation guns. He also bragged about the NRA's role in turning out NRA members to a hearing to oppose S.B. 798.
According to S.B. 798's legislative analysis, a similar New York law requiring BB guns to be brightly colored that was upheld by a court after facing a preemption challenge.
On September 7, 2011, Worley appeared on NRA News to celebrate when S.B. 798 stalled towards the end of the legislative session. Worley said the bill "failed yesterday in [the Committee on Public Safety], so the imitation gun ban is now failed, so it cannot come back up again. So all of our BB guns, and airsoft guns and this other stuff is safe now." Host Cam Edwards responded, "That's what I'm talking about," and "That's fantastic news."
Worley also attacked the proposal during NRA News appearances on June 21 and June 20. During the June 20 appearance Worley called the legislation "a stupid BB gun bill" that would "basically ban traditional BB guns" and complained that the bill was a "Bloomberg law from New York City."