Air rifles and BB guns would be prohibited in Baltimore under a proposed ordinance introduced in the City Council yesterday, a response to a series of robberies in which the weapons have been used, supporters said.
The legislation, which was referred to the council's public safety subcommittee, was proposed weeks after Baltimore outlawed the possession and discharge of paintball guns - except for on private property - and days after a federal court struck down portions of the District of Columbia's stringent gun law.
"They're being used in a disruptive way, in a dangerous way," said the bill's lead sponsor, City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents portions of Northeast Baltimore. "They're also being used as ... a weapon to someone being robbed. It appears to be a real gun, but it's not. But it has the same effect."
Anyone caught with a BB gun in Baltimore would be subject to a $500 fine and a 90-day jail sentence. In 2002, Baltimore officials made it a misdemeanor to sell or give a BB gun to anyone younger than 18. The new proposal would expand that to people of any age.
Some BB pistols and air rifles are replicas of - and can be easily mistaken for - firearms. Some fire high-velocity projectiles that are the same caliber as bullets.
Several gun-ownership proponents said BB guns are used on shooting ranges in other parts of the state to train minors to carry and fire rifles safely. Others questioned how the measure would be enforced. A spokesman with the National Rifle Association did not return a phone call seeking comment.
John H. Josselyn, legislative vice president of the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore, noted that air-rifle competitions are an Olympic sport. The guns are used to train shooters because they have less recoil and therefore allow instructors to focus more directly on technique.
"If you commit a crime with an air pistol, it's the same as any other firearm," Josselyn said, arguing that current laws prohibit using the guns for a robbery. "This demonstrates the absolute, total inability of politicians to come to grips with the fact that it's the criminal. ... It's about time we started doing something about the criminals."