As a kid, almost all of my Christmas memories revolve around some kind of gun-shaped toy. From my Ghostbusters Proton Pack to my Nintendo Zapper, to the set of Laser Tag units I gripped while chasing my cousins around — toys guns were just an integral part of so many childhood experiences. Even without a prop to hold, most recess games in grade school involved making guns with our fingers while role-playing as either cops or robbers.
In recent years, the toy gun has become problematic, as realistic looking guns have been involved in a number of police shootings. Most recently, the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014 was based around the presence of a prop gun that officers thought was real.
To show how complicated that situation has become, here is a photo of the toy gun involved:
Just today it was reported that the prosectors in the Tamir Rice case went so far as to point this gun at the jury.
The city of New York has had a long-running problem with prop and toy weapons. From 1998 to 2003, New York police opened fire in 12 separate incidents where it was later revealed the suspects were in possession of fake guns. In response, 2009 saw then state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo send letters ordering over 100 New York retailers to stop selling toy guns that weren’t properly marked as imitations. Warnings went to manufacturers, local stores, and national retailers like Big Lots, Dollar Tree, and Dollar General. Investigators visited dozens of stores throughout New York and found that most sold toy guns that didn’t comply with the state law.
The law itself specified that toy guns needed to be “obvious fakes” with brightly colored barrels and stripes down the side, and was later amended to specify that the guns needed to be entirely colored with a neon hue. This is how the New York City law compares to the current national standard:
This week Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced settlements with over 30 major retailers who had been circumventing the law by selling Amazon products under third-party marketplace accounts. An investigation found that some 5,000 toy guns were illegally sold within the state of New York, with 1,337 sold in New York City.
“When toy guns are mistaken for real guns, there can be tragic consequences,” Schneiderman said. “I will continue to enforce this law so that we can avoid putting both children and law enforcement officials at risk.”
This all takes place in a country where gun store owners have become afraid to sell the safer versions of actual firearms. Culturally, much of this ties into an identity that guns have provided to families for generations.
According to the New York Daily News, the 30 companies agreed to willingly stop the sale of realistic toy guns in the state, and accepted around $30,000 in fines, which will be added to the $309,000 agreement from a few months ago that Schneiderman made with Walmart, Amazon, Kmart, and Sears.
Conservative reactions to this announcement question the impact, asking “What will prevent a criminal from painting an equivalent orange stripe on a gun?”
Others ask why law-abiding children should be stripped of toy guns when adult guns are not being regulated in the same fashion.
New York City, Washington D.C., Chicago, and parts of Michigan have completely banned Airsoft guns. Chicago goes even farther, making it a crime to wield a look-alike or replica gun of any kind. If a toy gun or replica gun is used to commit a crime in the Windy City, then that person is treated as though they had actually used a real firearm. California passed a law requiring that all replica or toy guns be brightly colored. Almost all of these responses come on the heels of a police related shooting.
While it borders on the satirical that the only meaningful gun control legislation to come from 2015 has involved the coloring of children’s toys, it isn’t a meaningless push. If kids are going to keep playing cops and robbers, the best we can do is create an environment where the pretend robbers aren’t shot by the actual cops.