NC bill would allow children in five more counties to use BB guns unsupervised

jblack@newsobserver.comJune 27, 2014 

  • Counties where BB guns, air riles and air pistols are considered “dangerous firearms”

    Anson

    Caldwell

    Caswell

    Chowan

    Cleveland

    Cumberland

    Durham

    Forsyth

    Gaston

    Harnett

    Haywood

    Mecklenburg

    Stanly

    Stokes

    Surry

    Union

    Vance

— 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 it’s 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 aren’t any less responsible than in the other 83 counties,” he said. “I’m 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 didn’t need adult supervision, but says it depends on the kid.

“When they’re 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 isn’t shooting.

Lewis’ son, now 11, has had a BB gun since he was 9.

“He’s been taught to engage and disengage the safety,” Lewis said. “He knows when he’s 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. “It’s 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 sheriff’s deputy Paul Sherwin said he couldn’t 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 haven’t heard of us enforcing that law,” Sherwin said.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service