- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

I am all for gun control, but let’s not get out of control. Some common sense just ought to suffice for common law.

But we had to see it coming. We had to know that it was just a matter of time before some lawmaker would seize Junior Jesse James, the 7-year-old who attempted to rob an Annapolis video store with a toy gun in April, for a political ploy.

Alderman Cynthia A. Carter, a Democrat, plans to introduce a bill that will ban most toy guns in Maryland’s capital. In addition, she would fine parents whose children are caught playing shoot ‘em up and bang, bang in the back yard with the phony pistols.

No doubt she means well, but all’s not well with this meaningless measure.

“Children have got to be alerted that this is a dangerous thing,” Mrs. Carter told The Washington Times. “Guns are not a toy, no matter how you look at it.” Indeed they do. Indeed they are not. Indeed, she is overreacting and overreaching.

The real firearm problems revolve around bigger boys with badder guns. Mrs. Carter, for instance, takes no issue with her 38-year-old son, who is an avid hunter and member of the National Rifle Association. After all, he’s a grown man.

On the other hand, the little Lone Rangers and Tontos and the Junior Jesse Jameses and G-men she’d have hauled into jail and forced to fork over a handsome ransom for their freedom. Get real.

There’s got to be a better way, people. Just don’t buy “real” toy guns. Apparently, Mrs. Carter does not have a problem with these obvious imitations. The only guns I allowed my children to play with were neon-colored plastic water guns during our annual beach vacations. A Johns Hopkins University study released in the January issue of Pediatrics showed that race, gender and other social factors explained why some parents allow their children to play with toy guns.

Almost 70 percent of the parents surveyed at Children’s Hospital in the District said it was “never OK” for a parent to let a child play with toy guns. The parents who allowed their children to play with toy guns were more likely to be male, with male children, and Caucasian.

The study’s author, however, said although some studies have linked toy-gun play with aggressive behavior, and some child-health professionals counsel families to limit this type of activity, more research needed to be done on the topic. On both sides of the gun-control debate, however, most agree that parents must talk to their children about the difference between toy guns and real guns and “reality” TV and reality if we are to cut down on gun accidents and incidents of gun-related violence.

So do we really need additional legislation on toy guns when federal law already prohibits the sale of fake firearms if they do not have an unremovable orange tip at the tip of the barrel? Granted those gizmos can be ripped off, so Mrs. Carter is modeling her measure after the New York law. That state takes the federal law a step further by requiring unremovable orange strips along the barrel of toy guns that are black, dark blue, silver or aluminum.

Believe it or not, in March, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was successful in forcing Wal-Mart to pay $200,000 for failure to comply with the state’s toy-gun law after a two-year battle. Wal-Mart is the largest seller of toys and guns in this country.

But New York enacted the legislation in the late 1990s after four persons were killed and a teen was wounded by law-enforcement officers who mistook those victims’ fake guns for real guns. Fortunately, this was not the case in Annapolis.

Some gun-safety advocates, such as those with the Anti-Violence Campaign of the International Health and Epidemiology Research Center, contend that toy guns are increasingly being used to commit crimes or claim the lives of children when a toy gun is mistaken for a real gun or vice versa.

Like Mrs. Carter, these advocates rightfully wants toy manufacturers to take more responsibility in creating gun look-alikes. Couldn’t this initiative be accomplished on a voluntary basis by manufacturers and sellers? Wouldn’t these efforts be better focused on the real thing? Talk about going overboard.

Earlier this year, airport authorities in Birmingham, England, were criticized for their “hysterical overreaction” in banning the sale of a popular comic book because a bright-colored toy gun was given away with the issue.

These are testy and tricky times, but will common sense prevail? Admittedly, Mrs. Carter decided to draft her proposal after the Hollywood Video store was “robbed” by Junior Jesse James, she contends, in an effort to give prosecutors more leverage against defendants who use toy guns to hold up banks and other establishments.

But toy guns are only a portion of our worries when we have promulgated a society in which a child sees 200,000 acts of violence including 40,000 killings on television and in the movies by the time they graduate from high school.

Purchase-waiting periods, mandatory identification markers, safety locks, a national registry of owners or an outright ban on handguns sales — these are the tough and touchy gun-control measures that test a politician’s mettle.

Mrs. Carter needs to get real and stop toying with tiny tyke laws.

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