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Full Text of SB 798

Sample letter to state legislators

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California Bill Threatens Paintball Industry
California Bill Threatens Paintball Industry
Next vote scheduled for 14 June, 2011
By Bill Mills, June, 2011

CA Capitol Bulding circa 1945 Image courtesy of California Departments of Public Works

In the wake of a tragic event in which a youth pulling an airsoft pistol from his clothing was shot by a Los Angeles Police Officer in December of 2010, Senator Kevin de Leon has introduced a bill which, if passed would make illegal the “sale, manufacture, transportation, receipt, or distribution of imitation firearms for commercial purposes” unless “the entire exterior surface of the device is white, bright red, bright orange, bright yellow, bright green, bright blue, bright pink, or bright purple, either singly or as the predominant color in combination with other colors in any pattern, as provided by federal regulations governing imitation firearms, or where the entire device is constructed of transparent or translucent materials which permits unmistakable observation of the device’s complete contents, as provided by federal regulations governing imitation firearms.”

Currently California Penal Code section 16700 prohibits the commercial sale, transport or receipt of imitation firearms and toy guns, but has exemptions allowing for historic replicas and “BB devices” (AKA, airguns, airsoft guns, paintball markers, etc.) and those which have bright color schemes as described. The proposed bill, SB 798 would alter the state penal code, removing the BB gun exemption. As a result, the only legal path for commercial purchase, sale or transport of paintguns would be if they complied with the color requirements.  

While it is easy to see how this bill could impact paintball stores and fields in California, its potential effects go far beyond the West Coast of the US. Because the bill would limit even affect manufacture, it would have world-wide consequences, with tournament teams in Europe no longer to buy darker colored DYE or BLAST markers unless those companies set up out-of-state facilities to handle any of their markers that don’t meet the bright color qualifications. Similarly this could have a chilling effect on recreational and the scenario/milsim side of paintball with companies like RAP-4 and Kingman (Spyder) being based in The Golden State.

SB798 is not unlike a bill that was put forward by California’s Senator Roberti in the early 1990, letters about which ironically put this author in contact with the editor of Action Pursuit Games Magazine, resulting in encouragement to choose a path into paintball journalism. Senator Roberti’s bill would have required blaze orange barrel plugs to permanently be installed in all “toy guns.” A non-removable barrel plug would certainly have put a damper on paintball games.

Fortunately, the democratic process allows the people to influence the laws by which they are governed. With significant feedback from paintball and airsoft players to their representatives, Senator Roberti’s bill did not become law, and the same can be true for SB798.

The incident which spawned SB798 is not the first time a police officer has mistakenly fired upon a person who appeared to be, but was not actually armed. While the details of this particular incident have been sparse in the media, it is clear that adding a new law blocking anything but brightly colored airsoft products and or paintball gear would not prevent a situation like this from happening again, because multiple existing laws did not prevent it from happening in December.

According to the LA Times’ report of the incident, the youth involved was apparently playing a game with “pellet guns” shooting at other youth on a public street. The police officer gave the youth commands to surrender, and as the Times reports, the LAPD press release stated “the subject refused to comply with the officer’s commands and instead produced what was later determined to be a replica Beretta 92F handgun”.

Existing California law prohibits sale of a BB device to minors, supplying them to minors without consent of a parent or guardian and most importantly, as well as display or exposure of an imitation firearm in public. Clearly laws against such behavior did not prevent this unfortunate event, any more than laws which would also unnecessarily restrict a thriving industry and sport would prevent such incidents in the future.

Paintball players in California who are concerned with the future of their sport can easily get involved and take action. It is a simple matter to locate the contact information for one’s state senator and submit a politely worded e-mail or fax, voicing opposition to the bill. To become law, a similar bill must also go through the California Assembly. Contact information for the members of the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety can be found HERE.

Giovanni D'Egidio of Giant Paintball Parks, SC Village and Hollywood Sports paintball park and his team have put together a sample letter, in an effort to encourage more Californians to contact their representatives and the members of the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety. That sample letter can be found HERE. They have also put together a guide on how to effectively place phone calls opposing the bill, as well as additional state legislator contact information, which can be found HERE.

Concerned individuals may object to the bill  based on the grounds that it is likely to have impact not only on the recreational activities of paintball and airsoft which are enjoyed safely on private land at commercially operated game sites, but also on the industry supporting these activities - a fact which should be of concern to California's lawmakers. Several significant manufacturers in the paintball industry supplying equipment to other states, Canada, Europe and the rest of the world are based in Southern and Northern California. These are business which generate tax revenues for the state, and employ Californians.


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