Paintball Rampage: Expect Charges of Possessing Paintball Guns to Be Tossed

Categories: Crime, Law & Order
A quartet of young men who allegedly decided to paint the town -- and its residents -- red via paintball attacks are in a world of pain right now. The alleged shooters are facing charges ranging from assault with a deadly weapon to felony mayhem following a weekend rampage in which at least three pedestrians were peppered with paintballs.

One charge sticks out, however -- possession of a paintball gun, "which are illegal to own and carry in San Francisco."

Expect this charge to be discarded like so many used paintball targets. It always is. Because while it is indeed illegal to possess a paintball gun or air rifle in this city, that law has been obsolete for the better part of a decade.

See Also: Cops Buying "Illegal" Air Guns, Claims Merchant

SF Weekly first reported on this conundrum back in 2009. Under the Depression-era Police Municipal Code Section 602, owning or selling "sling shots" or "toys projecting missiles by air or gas" is a misdemeanor. This is a broad designation that would not only cover paintball guns or air rifles but, conceivably, toy guns firing foam projectiles.

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Joe Eskenazi
An "illegal" air rifle for any occasion
Outlawing NERF weaponry isn't a productive use of any branch of the government. And a state law specifically intended to do away with persnickety local ordinances like this was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004. Under Government Code 53071.5, adults and children may own or sell paintball guns and air rifles -- provided they don't discharge them recklessly, take them out in public, or traipse onto school grounds.

The memo has not yet reached the San Francisco Police Department, however. In '09, Public Defender Jeff Adachi and then-District Attorney spokesman Brian Buckelew clearly stated that the city's paintball fatwa was overridden by state law -- and that mere possession charges for air rifles or paintball guns are always dropped as a result.

Adachi says he expects the same will happen now. And he's rankled this is still occurring in 2013. "Arguably, it's oppressive prosecution. They know this law is pre-empted. To charge a person, this person has to post bail for a charge that doesn't exist," he says. "I will talk to [Police Chief Greg] Suhr about it. Perhaps they should send out a memo advising their staff they should not be arresting people for this charge."

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njudah topcommenter

that said, they're still liable for vandalism, right? seems like just leaving out the possession charge doesn't mean these kids are gonna get away with it. Plus, given how some of those newer air guns look so real, I'm no so sure i'd want to be running around with one pointing it all about, in a post 9/11 world...

Tammy Lively
Tammy Lively

I think it's totally ridiculous paintball guns are illegal what's next?! Kids Meal toys?? Ohh wait.. too late those are too! #silly


@njudah They're still liable for all of their alleged activities. But, it would seem, not for merely possessing the paintball guns. 

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