- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2000

ANNAPOLIS A city alderman wants Annapolis to buy back cap guns, water pistols and other toy weapons to curb violent behavior in children.

Cynthia A. Carter, convinced that cap guns and water pistols foster violent behavior, is looking for financial support for a toy-gun buyback.

"Children can't distinguish between a real gun or a play gun, nor do they understand the difference between life and death," said Ms. Carter, a first-term Democrat.

Annapolis police greeted Ms. Carter's proposal with support but no money.

"We have no funds for that kind of buyback," said Norman Johnson, a police spokesman.

The force did receive money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for a buyback program with real weapons. Police collected 42 guns on April 8 at a cost of $50 to $100 each and hope for similar results during a second exchange on April 22.

John J. McCarthy, deputy state's attorney in Montgomery County, noted that cash for buyback programs is limited.

"It makes far more sense to buy back the real guns," he said.

Ms. Carter, though, said the toys can be bought back with donations, adding that she's already received contributions.

Eventually, the Annapolis grandmother said she hopes all toy guns are banned. "If it came up, I would support it, absolutely," she said. "I want people to weigh out the possibilities: What good does a toy gun do and what harm does it do?"

She said she got the idea for the program after talking to the mother of a young boy who pointed a toy gun at a police officer. The officer scolded the child.

Such programs aren't new. Schools, toy stores and community groups across the nation have sponsored trade-ins and buybacks of toy guns, action figures and other violent playthings. Some offer money, while others exchange the fake firearms for gift certificates, ice cream cones and other prizes.

Diane Cardinale, a spokeswoman for the Toy Manufacturers of America in New York, said no one has ever proven that toy swaps like the one proposed in Annapolis have any effect on violence.

"Real guns kill more people than toy guns," she said. "We think the problem is not with toy guns."

But supporters of the programs say the point is not so much to take away violent toys as it is to discuss with children why they should give them up.

"Children's culture now is saturated with violence," said Daphne White, executive director of the Bethesda-based Lion and Lamb Project. "Violence is fun is the basic message we're sending."

Lion and Lamb is a support group for parents or community leaders wanting to conduct a toy buyback or exchange. The group has even created a manual on how to proceed.

Some buyback programs take in only a few dozen toys, but they generate publicity and get parents thinking, Miss White said. A recent trade-in conducted at the University Park Church of the Brethren took in 45 toys on Dec. 4. A nationwide effort sponsored by toy store Zany Brainy collected 2,881 violent toys between Nov. 13 and Dec. 24.

Police who have to make split-second decisions based on perceived threats have been fooled into firing by suspects wielding authentic-looking toys.

"It's hard to identify in the heat of an incident which is real," Mr. Johnson said.

Earlier this month, two undercover officers in New York City shot and killed two men after they tried to rob the officers with fake handguns.

Several officers in the D.C. region have fired on young people carrying toy guns.

Prince George's County, Md. police shot and killed Julie Marie Meade, 16, in November 1996 after she pointed a pellet gun at them. Half a dozen officers who responded to her suicide call did not know the gun was fake. They shot Julie after she ignored their orders to drop the gun and kept walking toward them.

In November 1989, the Prince George's County Council outlawed the sale, advertisement or distribution of toy guns that look real. It is not illegal, however, to own such a toy.

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