RALEIGH - When state Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County learned recently that it's illegal for his 10-year-old son have BB guns and air rifles unsupervised, he decided it's time to change the law.
On Tuesday, the state House voted for a Lewis-sponsored bill to delete Harnett County and four other counties from a list of 17 where BB guns, air rifles and air pistols are considered to be "dangerous firearms" that children younger than age 12 must not have access to without parental permission and adult supervision.
The bill is now pending in the state Senate.
"I intended to decriminalize the acts of literally hundreds, if not thousands, of young people in Harnett County who enjoy shooting their BB gun," Lewis. "I think this is a radical government overreach to regulate it, and Harnett County being removed from the very small list that forbade this conduct puts us with the mainstream and with most of the counties in the state."
Lewis said Harnett County was added in the "BB guns are firearms" list in the 1960s, but he does not know why. Cumberland County is also on that list.
"I can't tell you the hours and hours that I spent, growing up in Cumberland County, playing army with by Crosman(CQ) 760 air rifle. And apparently, my parents were breaking the law the law the whole time," Lewis said. "When I found that out, I said that's something we ought to be able to fix, and that's what this bill does."
Parents should decide what's appropriate for their children, Lewis said.
Only one lawmaker spoke against the bill.
"The average (is) about 20,000 injuries a year in our country, three-quarters of whom are children, from these air guns, pellet guns and BB guns," said Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County. "I just noticed there are many states that regulate this as the same as firearms."
It's legal in Guilford County for children to have these guns.
But it remains a class-2 misdemeanor in Cumberland County. Lewis said he would leave it to lawmakers from each county to decide whether to change the law for their communities.
Rep. John Szoka of Cumberland County said he wants change the law for Cumberland, but the bill handling the issue is a "local bill" - one that is allowed to pertain to no more than five counties. All five slots were taken. Szoka said he plans to run similar legislation for Cumberland County next year.
Ronnie Mitchell, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office attorney, was uncertain of why BB guns and air guns are considered firearms in some counties but not others.
Noting that many of the counties in the list of 17 are urbanized, Mitchell said the purpose may be "basically to limit the danger of there being an accident with a BB gun."
Children shooting BB guns in urban areas run a greater risk of injuring someone or damaging property than those in rural areas, Mitchell said.
But that doesn't explain why rural counties also treat BB guns as firearms, he said.
The issue on Tuesday caught the attention of Sheriff Moose Butler, Mitchell said, who intends to discuss it soon with Cumberland County lawmakers.
It's likely that many parents in Cumberland County are breaking the law by letting their children use BB guns unsupervised, Mitchell said. But it's not been something that the Sheriff's Office has been getting complaints about.
Regardless, "We don't have the personnel to be out running around enforcing it," he said.
Meanwhile, Lewis said he is looking forward to his son legally enjoying his BB gun.
"My son does indeed have a genuine Daisy Red Ryder, just like Ralphie wanted in 'A Christmas Story,'" Lewis said. "And he takes very good care of it. He knows how to engage and disengage the safety. He puts it up in a secure location when he's not using it. And that's the way that's it's used, that I, along with I think hundreds of other dads and moms, spend time with their kids."