Should the Toy Industry be Blamed for Making Toy Guns Look too Realistic?

Friday, February 20, 2015
Toy gun on sale during the 2014 holiday shopping season (photo: Charles Krupa, AP)

When a police officer shoots a youth holding a toy gun that looks like a real firearm, who is to blame? Law enforcement or toy manufacturers?


Some police officials have placed the blame on the toy industry. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has called on toy-gun makers to stop producing pistols and even rifles that closely resemble deadly firearms that an officer can easily mistake for a threat that prompts an officer to open fire.


“How about not configuring them to have the exact dimensions and machining as a real gun?” Beck told the Los Angeles Times.


Such changes might help avoid occurrences like the one last month in Los Angeles when 15-year-old Jamar Nicholson was shot in the back after officers mistakenly assumed the toy gun he and others were playing with was real.


A similar episode occurred in Cleveland last year when a rookie officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was holding a modern BB gun known as Airsoft.


Two years ago, a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa after spotting the young teen carrying a toy gun that was a replica of an AK-47 rifle. The deputy thought it was real.


Some legislative efforts have been made to force the toy industry to alter their manufacturing of fake weapons, such as adding orange caps on the tips of guns. But these efforts haven’t always been successful. Justin Peters at Slate points out that kids can remove the caps, or officers ignore or don’t see them. Young Nicholson’s toy gun still had the red cap on its muzzle after he was shot by the police. Also, wrote Peters, in cases where toy guns have been produced with bright, friendly colors, children just paint over them.


Peters says that in some of the aforementioned tragedies, the police officers involved in the shootings may be responsible for the deaths.


“Jamar Nicholson was shot in the back. He wasn’t even holding the fake gun,” Peters wrote. “Tamir Rice wasn’t pointing a gun at Officer Timothy Loehmann when Loehmann shot and killed him last November within seconds of arriving on the scene. Loehmann had previously washed out of the Independence, Ohio, police department thanks to ‘a pattern of a lack of maturity, indiscretion, and not following instructions.’”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Young Guns (by Justin Peters, Slate)

Provo Police: Officers Don't Distinguish Between Toy Guns and the Real Thing (by Genelle Pugmire and Cathy Allred, Daily Herald)

Teen's Mistaken Shooting Shows Real Danger of Toy Guns, LAPD Says (by Sarah Parvini, Richard Winton and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times)

In Tamir Rice Case, Many Errors by Cleveland Police, Then a Fatal One (by Shaila Dewan and Richard Oppel Jr., New York Times)


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