6 votes

Gunmakers are profiting from toy replicas that can get kids killed

1 comment

  1. cge
    (edited )
    At the risk of seeming like I am dismissing individual tragedies and taking too clinical and contrary an approach, I do think it's important to keep this issue in perspective. As is unfortunately...
    • Exemplary

    At the risk of seeming like I am dismissing individual tragedies and taking too clinical and contrary an approach, I do think it's important to keep this issue in perspective.

    As is unfortunately too common in journalism, numbers here are provided without much context, though it is admirable that the source is conveniently linked. Police shootings in the WaPo data appear to happen at a surprisingly consistent rate of about 970 per year. The 35 per year average of shootings of people with toy weapons makes up less than 4% of those shootings. It's not clear to me what constitutes a "toy weapon" in the WaPo data set: how many of those were realistic replicas of firearms, how many were replicas that were modified to be more realistic, and how many were clearly toys, or not toy firearms at all? And, while of less importance, how many were cases of people trying to make police think the weapons were real, as opposed to not realizing the police considered them real, or not realizing the police were present? Note that, for the specific "children will play with these toys and then be killed by police" concern, only 9 of the 154 toy weapon killings since the beginning of 2015 involved people under 18.

    There does appear to be a tendency to attempt to shift blame for shootings here to toy firearm manufacturers, which is a bit odd, and disappointing when it seems inaccurate in presenting that perspective. The article's presentation of the Tamir Rice case, for example, appears to entirely follow the initial police claims in order to place blame on the appearance of the toy, pointing out that "the officers said they believed they were in imminent danger because Rice was holding a gun." While perhaps technically true as paraphrasing initial claims, it omits that, in all later discussion, and in video evidence, Rice was seen as not holding a gun, but instead reaching for something gun-like his waistband, that the 911 caller who had seen the item had described it as "probably fake," and that the police fired before their car even stopped, making questions of how difficult the item was to distinguish from a real gun seem rather less important than everything else.

    There's thus a real question here, I think, of whether US laws and police response methods, rather than toy gun appearance, is the more significant issue here. It would be interesting to see data on similar shootings in other countries: many European countries, for example, allow replica firearms. Many have fewer restrictions on appearance than the US: France, for example, appears not to require distinguishing features at all. And yet I can only seem to find instances of such mistaken-toy shootings in the US. Of course, a significant difference here is that, in most European countries, visible airsoft guns in public view are outright illegal---a law that seems quite reasonable---and their use is restricted to private property. Most US police also seem to handle cases of someone walking around with what is reported as a gun by approaching them with one or two officers, shouting at them, usually, it seems, from vulnerable positions, and then immediately shooting if the suspect turns, moves, or does anything they don't seem to expect. This would seem quite risky for the police if the person were actually carrying a gun, and would seem to encourage erring on the side of shooting when in doubt.

    The one somewhat comparable case I know of outside the US is that of Harry Stanley in the UK. There, the same story played out, except the "toy gun," rather than being a convincing replica, was a bag holding a recently-repaired table leg, which Stanley was carrying home: he could not have even been aware that what he was carrying might be seen as a gun. If, in these situations, a table leg can't be distinguished from a gun, is the realism of a toy gun really the problem?

    However, with all that said: the more distressing side of replica guns seems to me not to be their risk of being seen as real guns by police, but their use, arguably, in trying to promote a culture of gun obsession among children in the US. A goal of these replica guns, and presumably the reason why the NRA and related actual-gun groups seem very concerned with restrictions, would appear to be to draw people, and, presumably, children, into the culture of gun ownership and, more specifically, gun collection. This is why, one might speculate, it is important that these be replicas that visibly appear similar to specific guns, pointing out to young buyers that these guns are cool, that they're all different and desirable, and that it would be great to collect all the real guns when they are old enough (but for now, of course, buy all the toys). Toy guns that were not specific replicas, much less toy guns that were clearly not real, would not fit this model very well.

    I don't think realistic replica cigarettes, or water-filled branded vodka bottles, would be seen, anywhere, as good toys for children. Why are replica guns? What does that say about gun marketing, and about the gun collecting culture in the US?

    Edit: thinking about this a bit more, I found this 2016 Washington Post article. Of note, in it, is the suggestion that half-measures like requiring orange tips are not actually useful, despite being the major federal regulation in the US:

    In one study, FBI recruits were confronted by assailants carrying firearms or guns with orange tips. The recruits had two seconds to decide whether to shoot. When faced with unmarked replica pistols or guns with orange tips, officers shot 95 percent of the time.

    “It is clear from this study that the orange plug marking system does not help police officers distinguish between toy guns and real guns,” concluded the 1989 report, which was managed by the National Institute of Justice.

    This report came before orange plugs were required, and yet Congress still chose orange plugs over anything more significant.

    5 votes