Oops! Johnson City realizes its ban on BB, paintball gun sales has violated federal law for 14 years

After realizing that the city was in violation of a federal statute, Johnson City Commissioners have revised an ordinance to permit the sale of “look-alike” weapons in the city, reports the Johnson City Press.

On March 20, after its third reading, the City Commission amended city ordinance 11-124 to permit the sale of air guns, slingshots, paintball guns and other such projectile-launching devices inside city limits.

While the city’s prior ordinance had stood for almost 19 years, Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin said, it ran contrary to a federal law forbidding states or municipalities from restricting that type of sale.

“The ordinance that we had on the books previously had been on the books for a long time,” Van Brocklin said. “It had never been brought to our attention — prior to very recently — that apparently we are not allowed to have that type of ordinance. We were simply addressing a problem that is inconsistent with the federal statute.”
Information collected by University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Assistance Services said the original city ordinance took effect in 1985. U.S. Code Title 15 Section 5001 — known as the “look-alike” law — which prohibits states or municipalities from forbidding the sale of any toy or imitation firearm, was passed in April 1989.

That means Johnson City went more than 14 years in violation of that federal statute. Van Brocklin said no one was aware of the violation until the town was informed by representatives of the Crosman Corp., which manufactures and sells imitation weapons.

“How they found out about it, I don’t know,” Van Brocklin said. “But once we found out we were in violation, we took care of the problem.”

…Though the look-alike law prohibits states and municipalities from denying the sale of imitation weapons, it does allow for states and municipalities to regulate the sale of those toys to minors. Retailers who sell imitation, projectile-launching toys or devices would be punishable under the law if they sold them to anyone under age 18.

In addition to any penalties issued against retailers, however, minors themselves are subject to law under the revised ordinance. The new law says that any minor in possession of an imitation, projectile-firing weapon on any public property is in violation of the law, as are minors who fire them on public property. Anyone who fires an imitation firearm and endangers people or property is also in violation of the law.

Any violations are punishable by a fine not to exceed $50, as per the city’s general penalty ordinance.