Last month in Sonoma County, 13-year-old Andy Lopez Cruz was carrying a replica AK-47 toy gun when Deputy Erick Gelhaus mistook the toy for a real weapon and fired, hitting Lopez seven times. Protests in honor of Lopez sprang up in cities throughout California, and now, state lawmakers are considering drawing a bolder line on the toys available in stores.
The tragedy struck a chord with parents in California, who wondered if the same thing could have happened with their own children. In the Mission, realistic firearms like the one Lopez was carrying can be found in most stores that sell children’s toys. Out of 20 stores visited Tuesday, 11 had imitation guns on display that could easily be confused with real ones.
The current federal law regulating pellet and BB guns requires them to have a bright orange line painted on the barrel, but toy makers often use their discretion when marking it on the product. One toy for sale at Discount City at 2784 Mission Street, buried the orange paint halfway inside the barrel, making it nearly impossible to see.
To draw a clearer visual boundary between toy and real guns, State Senator Kevin de Leon introduced the Imitation Firearm Safety Act, legislation that aims to eliminate the use of realistic colors on BB, airsoft and pellet guns by requiring them to be painted brighter, more obvious colors. The Act was introduced last Friday in response to Lopez’s shooting in Santa Rosa.
“This is a good idea,” remarked the owner of Golden Plaza Trading Company, who wished to remain anonymous. “It will conspicuously let police know that it is a toy gun, not a real gun. They should have done it a long time ago.”
At Golden Plaza, a metallic BB gun can be purchased for less than 10 dollars. The store also carries plastic guns with more obvious indicators that they are fake. A grey toy shotgun included an orange marker on the barrel that was over an inch wide, as well as a sticker on the body.
In addition to Golden Plaza, Factory 2-U and A & A Bargain Store had BB guns on display for less than $20.
The plastic guns carried by many Mission stores are painted grey, black and camouflage, making them very difficult to identify as fake without actually picking them up and touching the plastic.
These models are popular with local kids, who frequently steal the guns out of their packaging, according to a cashier at Discount City.
Walgreens, which has three locations along Mission from Cesar Chavez to 16th Street, carries only a limited number of toy guns, all of which are a bright yellow or orange.
“We do avoid offering realistic looking toy guns in all our stores,” Phil Caruso, who works in the store’s media relations department, explained. “We offer brightly colored toy cap guns, fantasy toy guns such as space blasters and Nerf products.”
But other stores, such as Aldea Ninos on Valencia Street, have even more explicit policies against carrying violent toys.
“We don’t sell guns or swords but we do have magic wands,” Cantwell Muckenfuss, the store’s manager said on Tuesday. The store’s owner is opposed to carrying any toys that replicate weapons.
Legislation similar to the Imitation Firearm Safety Act was introduced two years ago by de Leon but failed to pass. The new bill will be reviewed by lawmakers when the legislative session resumes in January.