By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - Pellet guns and other toy weaponry should not be allowed to look like the real thing, a California lawmaker said Friday, vowing to introduce a bill to ban such replicas following the accidental killing of a 13-year-old boy by sheriff's deputies.
The proposal by State Senator Kevin de Leon would require imitation guns and rifles, including those used in civilian mock battle games, to be brightly colored, rather than in dark tones that make them look authentic.
"When officers must make split second decisions on whether or not to use deadly force, these replica firearms can trigger tragic consequences," said de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat who tried but failed to get a similar bill through the legislature in 2011.
"By making toy guns more obvious to law enforcement, we can help families avoid the terrible grief of losing a child," he said.
Citing the accidental killing of teenager Andy Lopez Cruz on October 22, De Leon promised on Friday to reintroduce his bill when the legislative session reopens in January.
The eighth-grader was walking near his home in the wine-country town of Santa Rosa, carrying a pellet rifle he planned to return to a friend when he was shot dead by sheriff's deputies who mistook the imitation gun for the real thing.
The shooting, by a veteran deputy and firearms instructor, has sparked almost daily protests in California, and the FBI has launched an independent investigation.
The boy's family has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Erick Gelhaus, 48, the Sonoma County sheriff's deputy who shot Andy. The suit, which also names the county as a defendant, seeks unspecified damages and alleges the deputy violated the teen's civil rights.
De Leon's latest effort to ban toy weapons that could be mistaken for actual firearms comes as California struggles to find a balance between support for stringent gun control rules among majority Democrats in the legislature, and a strong push by Governor Jerry Brown, also a Democrat, to take a more centrist approach.
Last month, Brown vetoed a measure that would ban 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.
De Leon's bill passed the Senate but died in committee in the more conservative Assembly in 2011. Opponents included toy-gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association. They argued that coloring the guns could create a false impression that they are harmless.
Opponents have also contended that criminals might color their real weapons to confuse police. But Aaron Maguire, a legislative representative for the California State Sheriffs' Association, noted that lawbreakers could already do that if they wanted to.
De Leon says that this time public opinion is on his side, with the death of Andy Lopez Cruz so fresh in people's minds.
"The reality is that there are many Andy Lopezes, not just throughout the state but throughout the entire nation," de Leon said. "What happened in Santa Rosa on October 22 I believe was a watershed moment for the whole country."
The 2011 bill, which had the support of Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, was introduced after police in Southern California shot and severely wounded another 13-year-old, Rohayent Gomez, de Leon said.
De Leon said he has not yet spoken to Brown or to Republican colleagues about his proposal.
(Additional reporting by Ronnie Cohen; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Gunna Dickson and Bob Burgdorfer)