"Scourge: A source of widespread dreadful affliction and devastation such as that of war." Yes, scourge, that's the word applicable to imitation firearms toy guns.
The recent news from Florida should serve as a wake-up call to parents, legislators and schools. Imitation firearms should not be considered toys.
I am talking about BB guns, pellet guns, air guns, also called pneumatic guns, CO2 operated guns, and spring operated guns. These are all guns that shoot projectiles, but are not real firearms because they do not project a bullet propelled by an explosion. There is also the gun replica that does not shoot anything, but looks and feels real and is often mistaken for the real thing. Therein lies much of the danger.
To help people especially law enforcement identify toy guns as such, manufacturers paint an orange stripe on the tip of the barrel. That orange tip signifies an imitation firearm. So, criminals have been known to paint an orange tip on their real guns and little children have been known to scrape the orange off of the tip of theirs. Criminals want you to think it's just a toy. Children want their toy to look like the real thing.
Imitation firearms have been turning up at schools throughout the United States, a trend that must stop. This month a 15-year old boy in Florida terrorized his classmates with an imitation firearm. He was then shot by police who thought the gun was real. The boy was declared brain-dead and his organs were "harvested."
This is not the first incident involving a child being shot by police in a case of "mistaken identity" of a toy gun as an actual weapon. A search of local news sources revealed that multiple fatalities and close calls have occurred locally. In l997, "Happy" John Dine, an adult, was fatally shot by police in such a case in downtown Santa Cruz. In 2000, police were mobilized to a bank in Santa Cruz where UCSC students were filming a movie and using imitation guns. In 2003, a youth in Aptos was charged with making a "terrorist threat" and taken to juvenile hall after pointing a plastic gun at a fellow student. Last year more than 10 Watsonville police officers armed with rifles were deployed to deal with a group of 13-year old boys whose gun turned out to be a toy.
These mistaken identity cases are not the only way for a toy gun to kill or cause serious injury. Of course, these toys some of which shoot projectiles at 450 miles per hour can put out an eye or even kill, when shot at a person. And kids do point these at people and shoot them. In 2004, a Boulder Creek boy was shot in the eye with such a gun necessitating a corneal transplant and laser surgery.
And then there are cases in which a real gun is mistaken for a toy gun with devastating results.
In 2000, a 3-year old boy shot his father when he mistook his father's loaded revolver for a toy gun. In1998, a 9-year old girl found a loaded handgun she assumed was a toy. She killed her 6-year old sister with it.
Another scenario has criminals using toy guns to commit crimes. Thousands of imitation guns are seized annually by police officers nationwide in crime related incidents. In Mexico imitation firearms have been outlawed since law enforcement complained that criminals were getting off too easy when their weapons turned out to be imitation.
Then there are the possible long-term effects of kids playing with imitation firearms. Violent play is suspected of being the predecessor of real violence. Consider the violent, shoot-'em-up computer games associated with the Columbine High School massacre. Toy guns growing increasingly realistic are bound to increase the association between fantasy play and real violence, especially when this is reinforced by computer games, violent rap and hip-hop lyrics and movies.
Realistic, toy guns are readily available on the Internet, in local stores, and even from some ice cream vendors! Most are available in pistol, rifle and automatic versions. They cost from $2 to over $300. They feel real, look real and can do real damage to people and property.
In this culture that refuses to control real guns, imitation guns are a real menace. There is no amount of fun a kid can have that can offset the devastating consequences if something were to go wrong. Toy guns are not permitted in schools, and if communities can't ban them entirely, parents should do their best to keep them out of the hands of their children.
Fact Sheet About Toy Guns International Health & Epidemiology Research Center
Student Shot by SWAT Team Had Pellet Associated Press
Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist for Santa Cruz City Schools, the Coordinator of Special Education for Spreckels Union School District in Monterey County and a School Board Trustee for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. Her opinions are not necessarily those of any school district.
© Sandra Nichols 2001 - 2006