BOSTON (State House News Service) – A bill to require a high-visibility orange stripe on imitation firearms sold in Massachusetts that seemed poised to be debated and voted on by the House on Wednesday instead was sent back to a committee for further study.
Rep. Daniel Cullinane’s bill (H 3476) was referred by the House to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary “to determine once and for all” if the bill complies with a federal law that preempts state laws concerning the sale of airguns, Cullinane said Wednesday afternoon.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing our due diligence to make sure that it does not violate federal law,” the Dorchester Democrat told the News Service.
The federal law in question states that “No state shall … prohibit the sale (other than prohibiting the sale to minors) of traditional B-B, paint ball, or pellet-firing air guns that expel a projectile through the force of air pressure.”
Cullinane said he expects the bill will get a hearing before the Judiciary Committee soon and will then be back before the House for consideration.
The bill, which has the backing of the Boston Police Department, Attorney General Maura Healey and others, would require replica gun manufacturers to include a non-removable one-inch orange stripe to run along the barrel, handle and front of the gun so it can be seen from every angle.
The House was expected to take up the bill during its formal session Wednesday, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo included it among the list of bills the House would take action on when he emerged from a Democratic caucus Wednesday afternoon.
Flanked by Cullinane and Rep. Harold Naughton, whose Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security gave the bill a favorable report, DeLeo noted the imitation firearm bill is “a little more controversial” than the other bills the House planned to take up Wednesday, including legislation regulating tanning salons and addressing health disparities.
The Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts had sent legislators a letter describing its opposition to the bill, arguing that the bill could make sports like airsoft and paintball illegal, even though that is not the intention of the bill.
Naughton said an amendment filed by Cullinane takes care of those concerns to the point that GOAL “should be supportive” of the bill.
“We got a list of concerns from the Gun Owners Action League and I believe we’ve addressed all of them. Any complaints that would have inhibited the airsoft and the paintball community from enjoying their sport, I think we’ve been able to deal with,” Naughton said. “We’ve grandfathered in any existing weapons. We’ve given a grace period to vendors for their existing stocks. We’ve allowed existing weapons to continue to be used on private property.”
The bill already included exemptions for replica guns used in movie and theater performances, and replica guns manufactured in Massachusetts but destined for export, Cullinane said.
The push comes a bit more than a year after the high-profile 2014 fatal officer-involved shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. A police officer responding to a report that a man was pointing a gun at people at a local park shot and killed Rice, who allegedly had a replica gun tucked into his waistband.
Boston police took 174 replica guns off the streets in 2015, Police Commissioner William Evans said when he testified in support of the bill, and 179 in 2014. The replica guns are commonly used in commercial robberies, street robberies and other crimes, Evans said.
“There is no reason why an imitation, toy, replica — whatever you want to call it — firearm needs to look exactly like a real gun and these manufacturers and retailers often celebrate in their advertisements just how real they look,” Cullinane said. “We think it’s a danger to our young people, to consumers of these products and a danger to law enforcement officers who are out patrolling our streets each and every day to have to guess if a gun is real.”
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and the City Council late last year imposed a ban on replica guns in public spaces and gave police the authority to confiscate the items and bring them to the station for retrieval by an adult.