NBC Bay Area
FILE ART - A Santa Rosa police officer holds up a real AK-47 and a replica gun used by 13-year-old Andy Lopez who was killed on Oct. 22, 2013.
The death of a Bay Area boy and the paralysis of a Los Angeles teen -- both shot by law enforcement while carrying replica rifles -- are the human faces behind state legislation being introduced on Friday that would crack down on the classification and color-coding of toy guns.
California State Senators Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) and Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) introduced their "Imitation Firearm Safety Act,'' which they hope will prevent any heat-of-the-moment confusion over fake guns by reclassifying BB guns and force manufacturers to paint them a bright color.
"If officers would have seen a gun painted in pink, purple or orange, Andy might still be alive," Evans said. "This was a huge tragedy for our entire community."
The "Andy" she referred to is Andy Lopez, a 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy in her district who was killed Oct. 22 by a deputy who mistook his replica brown AK-47 for a real one.
Critics have long argued that regulating "look-alike" guns do little to protect the public and that bad guys will simply paint their guns in a rainbow of hues to fake cops out.
"That is just a red herring," she said. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles all have similar toy gun color rules and there is no evidence to support that theory, she said.
What she did acknowledge is that there is a lot of pushback from the National Rifle Association and toy manufacturers who realize that real-looking guns might sell better than neon yellow ones.
The senators say that their proposal will help both children playing with toys and officers faced with realistic replicas.
"Unfortunately, because of the strong resemblance to firearms, when officers must make split-second decisions on whether or not to use deadly force to protect the public, these replica guns can trigger tragic consequences," according to a joint senator statement.
The two cite a 1990 study commissioned by the Department of Justice, which reveals more than 200 cases a year where imitation guns are mistaken for real firearms.
The backdrop for this legislation follows from two real-life tragic situations.
In addition to Andy's death, on Dec. 16, 2010, a Los Angeles police officer shot 13-year-old Rohayent "Ryan" Gomez-Eriza, who had been playing cops-and-robbers with an airsoft gun. The shooting left the teen paralyzed.
In 2012, a jury awarded his family $24 million, the largest wrongful shooting verdict ever against the Los Angeles Police Department.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed de Leon's bill in Los Angeles County, allowing cities to become stricter than the state in regulating the manufacture, sale, possession or use of any BB device, toy gun or replica firearm. Los Angeles is currently in the process of developing such a rule, which could be enacted in months.
But, according to de Leon, this is a piecemeal, city-by-city, approach, which needs to be expanded across California.
The specific proposal in their joint bills are to: Amend the penal code to define "BB device" as any instrument that expels a projectile, and require all BB guns to be classified as "imitation firearms," which would mean they would have to be painted a bright color.