It hasn’t taken former assemblyman Fabio Nunez much time to embroil himself in another controversial piece of legislation. First, the assemblyman used his close personnel relationship with Governor Schwarzenegger to get his son pardoned from murdering a fellow college student, and now the disgraced state lawmaker has taken on the airgun/Airsoft and BB gun industry.
When it comes to the firearm industry, State Senator Kevin deLeón (D-22nd) can always find new ways to insult voters and this time he has allowed former Republican Assemblyman-turned lobbyist, Nunez, to add an amendment to SB798 excluding his clients in the paintball industry and saving them millions of dollars.
Nunez’ new employer, Mercury Public Affairs, a lobbying firm, has amended SB 798 exempting his client’s paintball guns from the proposed state coloration requirement. Meanwhile, those who are unable to curry political favor in Sacramento are stuck with the tab, one that will put some manufacturers out of business.
The latest controversial legislation, SB 798, takes aim at the wildly popular BB guns, airguns and Airsoft gun industry. The bill is sponsored by California State Senator deLeón, the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa,
a long-time political ally of Nunez and de León.
SB 798 was proposed in response to the December 18, 2010 shooting of a Los Angeles 13-year-old boy by a LAPD Officer who thought the child was carrying a firearm. However, the child’s weapon turned out to be a pellet gun.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told The Los Angeles Times after the shooting; "We have seen far too much heartbreak involving these types of realistic-looking guns that are labeled as toys."
Nevertheless, this unfortunate accident sparked another controversial idea from the LAPD- making airguns, Airsoft guns, BB devices and other toy guns conform to a new regulation. SB 798 addresses this issue by requiring BB guns to be brightly colored, adhering to the same laws and regulations used for imitation firearms. The new regulation would force manufacturers to retool their plants and paint the exterior of the airguns/Airsoft device white, bright red, bright orange, bright yellow, bright green, bright blue or bright pink.
“SB 798 will help keep our communities safe,” said de León the bill's sponsor. “This (bill has) brought us one step closer to preventing tragic accidents, especially the shooting of minors and young adults, by law enforcement officers.”
While there is no proof that painting Airsoft/airguns or BB guns would result in fewer accidents, its consequences punish manufacturers who are on record stating this legislation will cost them millions of dollars.
These critics argue that “SB 798 would result in a huge, unjustifiable loss of income for private businesses, a loss of jobs and a loss of tax revenue for the state. For the Airsoft industry alone, this would amount to approximately $175 million in lost business revenue and close to 300 direct jobs in California. California’s economy would further suffer from the loss of related business revenue in office supplies, transportation services, food services, printing services, and other economic venues.”
In addition to the loss revenue, California taxpayers will certainly have to cover the court costs associated with this bill. Airgun/Airsoft manufacturers said they will go to court if necessary in order to preserve their business rights’. Furthermore, federal law preempts state law in this subject area thus placing SB798 on a collision course with federal statutes.
Earlier this year overzealous California lawmakers tried to regulate the sales of gun ammunition with AB 962 only to lose in Fresno Superior Court. Judge Jeffery Hamilton ruled the heavy-handed regulation of ammunition sales was deemed unconstitutional.
Yet, Senator de León continues to waste tax-payers monry and resources in the pursuit of new laws that will not hold up under the scrutiny of the courts.
Even though the new legislation targets BB guns, imitation firearms, Airsoft, airguns and other pellet guns, the firearm industry as a whole is strongly opposed to the proposed changes. California Association of Firearm Retailers, BB gun manufactuers, retailers, law enforcement and consumers and Soft Air USA and Airgun Information International have all come out in opposition to the draconian legislation that will not prevent future accidental shootings by the LAPD.
While SB 798 is currently being promoted as a public safety bill, there have been no studies that say changing the color of a toy gun prevents accidents. In fact, a 1990 study finds, “Toy guns, Involvement in Crime and Encounters with the Police’ conducted by the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that the coloration of toy guns does not result in a decrease in the shooting of children possessing toy guns by law enforcement officers.”
Some highlights of the study included law enforcement officers are taught to assume that all objects that look like a firearm are real weapons. In every case where officers used deadly force in a toy gun confrontation, the ‘triggering element’ in the officer’s decision to shoot was the action of the person. Without exception, all officers interviewed during the study said that officers must be taught to assume that all weapons they encounter are real. It was continually emphasized that training officers to try to distinguish between real and toy guns during an encounter would be an officer safety factor and an increased potential threat to the public. Officers are trained that anyone can pose a threat with a gun regardless of age or sex. Thus, officers are told that even when encountering a youth with a gun, it should be treated as a life-threatening circumstance.”
On the other hand, manufacturers claim that the criminal will try to outsmart police and refinish their guns to look like the airgun/Airsoft devices; this may cause an officer to hesitate and give the criminal a deadly edge.
Internationally recognized airgun expert, Dr. Robert D. Beeman Ph.D. concurred and said, “As an independent airgun expert, I oppose Senate Bill 798 because it would create a false and dangerous sense of security concerning airguns capable of serious human injury and death… It would increase accidents and incidents of serious injury and death among both the general public and police officers.” He continued to explain that, “This is primarily a behavior problem, not a product problem. Proper behavior virtually eliminates the danger attributed to such products. In any case, traditional airguns firing metallic projectiles should be exempted from SB 798 for safety reasons.”
In the end, California lawmakers have come up with another bill that over-regulates the BB device and airgun industry and encourages manufacturers to leave the embattled state, robbing residents of precious jobs and much-needed tax revenue.
Perhaps if Assemblyman Nunez's son would have used a pink weapon his victim may have had enough time to run away from his killers?
SB 798 bill will be heard on June 21 in the Assembly Public Safety Committee the same day that an airsoft retailers "Airsoft Megastore" CEO Mike Zhang was selected as a finalist for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the year award. It's ironic this award could occur in Beverly Hills the same day the committee votes to send another industry out of the state.
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