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When fake guns are banned and real guns are protected

DId a state legislature really pass a bill to make it illegal to bring a water gun, but not a real gun, within 150 feet of a school? Actually, yes.
This July 26, 2012 file photo shows an AR-15 style rifle. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)
This July 26, 2012 file photo shows an AR-15 style rifle.
Three years ago, Tampa was getting ready to host the Republican National Convention, and local officials took a variety of steps to improve public safety for those attending the event. Among the items prohibited in the area outside the convention center? Water guns -- but not real guns. The former was deemed a possible threat to public safety, while the latter was protected by state law.
A similar issue came up recently in Tennessee.

The Tennessee House of Representatives passed a bill Monday night that makes it illegal to take a squirt gun -- but not a real gun -- within 150 feet of a school. The new ban was included in a larger bill that would nix any local laws prohibiting people with gun permits from taking guns to parks.

The headline in The Tennessean read, in all seriousness, "House bill bans fake guns -- not real guns -- near schools."
What's especially striking about this story are the circumstances that led state lawmakers to take a look at gun policy in the first place.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, the National Rifle Association's annual conference starts this week in Nashville, and Tennessee's Republican-led state government was looking for a way to approve a "thank-you" gift to the NRA in the form of new state policy. The legislature set aside several days of legislating on the issue, which affectionately became known as "gun week."
As part of the process, lawmakers wondered what to do about a guy known locally as "the Radnor Lake Rambo," who has a habit of walking around outside courthouses and schools while wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying an assault rifle, which tends to freak people out.
So, one Republican state legislator figured that as long as Tennessee was in the midst of "gun week," maybe they should do something about the Rambo guy who tends to scare the bejesus out of people. But GOP lawmakers also didn't want to do anything that might offend the National Rifle Association.
What'd they come up with? A ban on squirt guns. As Rachel explained:

"It's a ban on fake guns, toy guns, things like squirt guns would be banned specifically anywhere near Tennessee schools. No squirt guns, no fake guns within 150 feet of Tennessee schools. "Real guns are still OK. But squirt guns and toy guns would be illegal outside of schools under the new law. The ostensible reason for this new language was to respond to the Radnor Lake Rambo guy. The Tennessean newspaper helpfully points out that that guy is actually carrying real guns, so he'd still be OK to keep doing what he's doing under the new law. But if your personal plan to stop that guy was to sully his bullet proof vest with a squirt from your super soaker, you would be the Tennessee gun criminal now, not him."

Right. If you stood near a school with a loaded AR-15, that would be legal. If you stood near a school with a water pistol, that'd be illegal.
This, evidently, got a little too weird for the legislature, which decided to slow the whole process down, even if that meant not being able to present the NRA with a legislative gift by tomorrow.