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Woodside, Ridgewood stores stop selling toy paintball guns

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Two Sports Authority stores in Woodside and Ridgewood recently have pulled paintball-shooting guns off their shelves in response to a citation from the city Department of Consumer Affairs stating that the stores were illegally selling imitation firearms.

Under a law that was passed in 1999, it is unlawful for anyone to sell “any imitation firearm which substantially duplicates, or can reasonably be perceived to be, an actual firearm” unless the exterior is brightly colored and clearly a toy, the DCA said.

The paintball guns being sold by Sports Authority were predominantly black, dark blue and gray, not the brighter colors required by law, said the DCA.

While Sports Authority has stopped selling the paintball guns in its Woodside and Ridgewood stores, it does not intend to stop selling them in its other stores across the country, said Frank Bubb, a legal counselor for Sports Authority.

“New York City is the only jurisdiction in the country that treats these things as imitation guns and says that you can’t sell them,” Bubb said. “Nobody anywhere else has ever indicated that these are a problem, and so we’re selling them outside the city as we’re legally entitled to.”

The paintball guns have a spherical attachment on the top of them to hold the paintballs and a canister on the bottom to hold carbon dioxide.

“In my view, it doesn’t look like a gun, but I think the city is probably taking a different view,” Bubb said.

The DCA citation came days after City Councilmen David Weprin (D-Hollis) and Albert Vann (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant) held a news conference in front of City Hall to announce a piece of legislation that they introduced and which would ban the sale of all toy guns, regardless of their color.

Vann said the new legislation stemmed from an incident in Bedford-Stuyvesant over the summer in which a man who was holding a toy gun which had been spray-painted black was shot dead by police, who mistook the toy for a real gun.

“I’m happy that the Consumer Affairs division has cracked down on this,” Weprin said. “I think there’s plenty of other toys on the market that kids can play with other than guns.”

The paintball guns sold at many of the 201 Sports Authority stores across the country include the Kingman Spyder Semi-Automatic series, the Tippman Power Pack 98 Custom, and the Viewloader VL Revelation semi-automatic.

Prices for the paintball guns run from $49.99 to $249.99. According to Bubb, last year sales of the guns, not including accessories, at the two Sports Authority stores in Queens totaled about $110,000.

“They’re a standard consumer item,” Bubb said. “Sales are not huge, but it’s more than minuscule.”

A hearing for the Sports Authority will be held in a couple of weeks, said Dina Improta, a spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer Affairs.

The DCA will seek the maximum fine, which could be as much as $200,000, depending on “the number of imitation firearms in each store and the number of advertisements the store placed to potential customers,” Improta said.

In addition to citing the Sports Authority, the DCA also has subpoenaed the manufacturers of the paintball guns to find out what other stores are selling the guns.

“It’s obviously an issue that we don’t take lightly,” Improta said. “It’s very dangerous to have these imitation guns in the streets, and it’s illegal.”

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Updated 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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