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Law Brands BB Guns Firearms, Not Toys

"Be careful or you’ll shoot your eye out," is the strongest warning most youngsters hear when playing with BB guns.

But a law passed in Cleveland on Monday classifies the guns as weapons, and mandates only adults can own them. The measure, passed by the Cleveland City Council, also bans the guns from public places across the city.

Councilman Mike Polensek proposed the law last year after 13-year-old Raymond Bozak was killed by a BB air rifle in a drive-by shooting. State Rep. Ed Jerse has proposed a similar one for the state.

"I don't think any of us could even imagine the damage this type of weapon can do," Polensek said to The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. "This is no longer a little pea shooter. These kill, and it's proven they kill."

The 19-year-old who fired the air rifle shot that killed Bozak pleaded guilty in March to involuntary manslaughter and endangering children. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

A similar ordinance passed earlier in the year in Alpharetta, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, has outlawed the use of BB guns, pellet guns and paint guns for children under the age of 16.

Supporters say kids have been roaming the neighborhoods, killing cats and maiming each other with the so-called toys. But detractors complain this is just another step closer to a total "nanny state," where the government tells its citizens how best to run their lives.

Jim Matoney, an Alpharetta City Councilman who introduced the ordinance, said he has no problem with parents allowing children to play with BB guns in their own backyards or at licensed facilities.

"If the damage is only being done within their own household, that’s one thing. It’s another thing for parents to let their kids go out of the yard and shoot the guns in the neighborhood," he said.

Opponents to such laws say the Alpharetta council has stepped beyond its purview in trying to legislate good parenting.

"My response is, a BB gun is to a real firearm, as a pencil is to a knife," said Colorado State Rep. Mark Hillman, who recently failed to get a bill passed easing the designation of BB guns as a "deadly weapon" after a boy caught with one had to serve several days in jail before pleading to a lesser charge.

In most states, BB guns, pellet guns and paint ball guns are not considered firearms because they use carbon dioxide cartridges, springs or pump action to shoot projectiles through compressed air.

In October, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission filed a suit against the Daisy Manufacturing Co., which has produced the Model 856 and Model 880 BB guns since 1972. The agency says both models are defective and are responsible for at least 151 serious injuries and 15 deaths. That suit is still pending.

The commission also claimed that in 2000, 17,896 injuries related to the use of gas, air or spring-operated guns were reported.

Pat Bratton, a member of the Single Action Shooters Society and the Libertarian Party of Georgia, agrees these types of guns aren't taken seriously enough. But he doesn't think more laws are the answer.

"I certainly don't think that either paint ball or BB guns should be an object of legislation, but a public awareness of proper safety when using these devices is justified," he said.

The National Rifle Association has refused to take a public position on the issue, but Hillman says the debate is more than just the role of government in restricting Second Amendment gun rights.

"I think it’s the paranoia of the nanny state liberals who are concerned that anything that could conceivably look like a gun is dangerous. It’s the mindset that the state has to protect everyone from themselves," he said.

Fox News' Amy C. Sims, Kelley Beaucar Vlahos and The Associated Press contributed to this report.