By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - Toy weapons would no longer be allowed to resemble real guns in California under a bill that advanced in the state legislature on Tuesday aimed at preventing children engaged in harmless play from being mistaken as armed and dangerous.
The bid grew out of public outcry that erupted last year after a Northern California sheriff's deputy shot and killed a 13-year-old boy as he carried a plastic replica of an assault rifle, in an interaction that played out in mere seconds.
"It is increasingly much more difficult for a police officer to distinguish the real thing from the fake thing, and often-times these have very tragic consequences like the death of a child or a teenager," bill sponsor Democratic Senator Kevin de Leon told Reuters. "It's much more common than people think."
The effort to ban realistic looking toy weapons, which applies to toys as well as pellet guns, passed the state Senate by a vote of 22-9. To become law, the bill must still pass the Assembly and be signed by Governor Jerry Brown.
The push comes as California struggles to find a balance between support for stringent gun control rules among majority Democrats and a strong push by Governor Brown, also a Democrat, to take a more centrist approach to politics.
Brown vetoed a measure last year that would have banned guns with removable high-capacity ammunition magazines in the state, but signed several others, including one prohibiting kits that proponents say allow owners to convert guns into assault-style weapons.
But de Leon, who will be the senate's next Democratic leader, said the death of eighth-grader Andy Lopez Cruz, who was shot and killed in October by a sheriff's deputy while walking to a friend's house to return a pellet gun used in mock battle games, makes his measure necessary.
In that case, the boy, carrying the plastic rifle near his home in the wine country town of Santa Rosa, turned toward deputies after they shouted at him, but as he did so, the plastic gun appeared to nose upward, prompting the deputy to shoot, authorities have said.
This is the second time de Leon has tried to ban toy guns that look like real ones. In 2011, he unsuccessfully introduced a similar measure after a Southern California boy was mistakenly shot by police.
That bill died in the state Assembly, where many members of the Democratic majority represent rural or more conservative districts.
Opponents to de Leon's prior bill included toy gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association, which argued that coloring the guns could create a false impression that they are harmless, or prompt criminals to paint real guns so that they look like toys.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Ken Wills)