RALEIGH — Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County grew up with a BB gun he used to shoot pine cones and play Daniel Boone. Little did Lewis know that doing that without an adult around was illegal in his home county of Cumberland.
Harnett and Cumberland are among 17 counties in North Carolina where BB guns, air rifles and air pistols are considered dangerous firearms under state law. That means children under age 12 cannot use the guns without adult supervision.
Lewis wants to change that. He introduced a bill that would remove Harnett, Anson, Cleveland, Stanly and Surry counties from the list of places covered by the law.
All this bill does is decriminalize a very prevalent practice in Harnett County and many other counties, Lewis said. It just seems like government overreach to me.
The bill passed through the House and now sits in a judiciary committee in the Senate. Only one legislator spoke out against the bill: Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County.
I did some research on the issue and discovered there are around 20,000 air, BB and pellet gun-related injuries a year in the United States. Three-quarters of them are children, Harrison said in an interview. I know some countries and states classify them as dangerous weapons.
The original law passed in 1963 after legislators were told BB guns caused many cases of blindness, though its not clear why it applied to only some counties and not others. Lewis is unsure of why Harnett was added to the list when the bill was passed.
Kids and parents in Harnett Country arent any less responsible than in the other 83 counties, he said. Im certain a lot of kids learn to shoot and have recreation time with their parents and learn the responsibilities.
Walker Hartsoe, 13 of Kernserville has been using a BB gun since he was 9 years old. He said he was 10 when he felt he didnt need adult supervision, but says it depends on the kid.
When theyre 9 or 10, they should be able to use one, he said.
Walker, who mainly uses the BB gun to shoot cups, added that using the gun has taught him to never point it at anyone and to keep the safety on when he isnt shooting.
Lewis son, now 11, has had a BB gun since he was 9.
Hes been taught to engage and disengage the safety, Lewis said. He knows when hes done playing with it to put the safety on and put it in a secure location.
Harrison said she would prefer there to be a statewide policy on the issue.
I understand the point of giving children BB guns, but they can be dangerous, Harrison said. Its not without some element of risk.
Durham is the only county in the Triangle covered by the law that classifies BB guns as dangerous firearms. Durham sheriffs deputy Paul Sherwin said he couldnt find a case where someone under the age of 12 had been cited for using a BB gun without supervision.
With the exception of school police officers confiscating a BB gun from students, I havent heard of us enforcing that law, Sherwin said.