Menendez Calls for New, Tougher Controls on Toy Gun, Firearm Lookalikes
Menendez Calls for New, Tougher Controls on Toy Gun, Firearm Lookalikes
Toy, BB guns designed to look like real firearms too often end in death
EAST ORANGE, N.J. – Standing with local leaders and law enforcement officials at East Orange, N.J., police headquarters, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) today urged federal regulators to issue new, stricter controls on toy, imitation, air and BB guns designed to look like real, lethal firearms, which too often lead to deadly consequences.
“These lookalike guns pose an incredible challenge to law enforcement when responding to life and death situations,” said Sen. Menendez. “Updating these regulations is about common sense. It’s about ensuring that everyone can tell the difference between what’s a toy and what’s a deadly weapon. And above all else it’s about saving lives and stopping preventable tragedies.”
Since 2015, 153 people have died at the hands of police while holding lookalike guns, according to the Washington Post’s police shooting database. Even more troubling, black and Latino individuals are more likely to be victims of these types of shootings. In March, a Trenton man, Jason Williams, was was met by deadly police force while threatening suicide with a realistic-looking BB gun.
In a letter sent today to Acting Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Chair Ann Marie Buerkle and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and cosigned by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen. Menendez called for new regulations that ensure real, toy and BB guns look markedly different and are easily distinguishable. They also noted that existing regulations on toy or imitation guns are outdated and ineffective.
“Current regulations require ‘a blaze orange plug inserted in the barrel of such toy, look-alike, or imitation firearm,’ or that toy guns be brightly colored singly or in combination with specified colors, have an orange marking on the barrel's exterior, or be made fully of transparent or translucent materials. Unfortunately, these orange tips are easily removed or camouflaged,” the lawmakers wrote. “[T]he regulations concerning toy and imitation guns are over 30 years old and in need of an update.”
A 2018 Emory University study found a majority of children could not distinguish between photos of a real and toy gun. Yet, firearm manufactures continue to target younger demographics by entering into licensing agreements with toy manufactures to reproduce lookalike guns to market to kids.
“It is past due time for Commerce to revise its regulations concerning toy guns and imitation guns and for the CPSC to strengthen regulations concerning non-powder guns,” the senators continued. “To that end, we ask the Department and the CPSC to adopt stricter specific mandatory regulations for such products. These regulations should require markings that are conspicuous and tamper-proof.”
East Orange banned the sale of realistic-looking toy guns in the city in response to the 2014 fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland; Rice had an Airsoft gun in his possession. New Jersey state law prohibits children from possessing BB and air guns, which are regulated like firearms.
“Toy guns that can be mistaken for real firearms have no place in our community. The threat of danger is too real and not one that we are willing to risk,” said East Orange Mayor Ted Green. “The legislation I helped pass in East Orange was created to protect everyone —our police officers, our citizens, and especially our innocent young people. And I appreciate Senator Menendez’s efforts in tackling the gun violence epidemic and working to put an end to senseless gun-related deaths.”
“Toy guns are too often mistaken for real firearms and they pose a danger to our children, our law enforcement and our community,” Essex County Sherriff Armando Fontoura said. “I stand with Senator Menendez in urging CPSC to enforce stricter regulations for toy guns and I appreciate his partnership in ensuring Essex County is a safe place to raise a family.”
“Toy guns that look real are dangerous and have no place in our community,” said State Sen. Nia Gill. “Our regulatory institutions have an obligation to protect the American public and it’s about time they start enforcing stricter regulations around toy guns. I thank Senator Menendez’s leadership in tackling this issue head on so we can prevent further senseless tragedies.”
“Fortunately, we have not had any fatal incidents involving toy guns, however, even one would be too many,” said East Orange Police Director Dominick Saldida. “That’s why it was so important to be proactive in banning the sale of these potentially harmful toys in our stores and throughout our community.”
Text of the letter is below and can be downloaded here.
June 10, 2019
Dear Chairman Buerkle and Secretary Ross,
We write to ask that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), together with the Department of Commerce (Department), undertake action to adopt stricter specific mandatory regulations concerning “toy guns,” imitation guns, and non-powder guns. Specifically, we request that CPSC issue regulations to ensure that non-powder guns, including traditional BB guns, look markedly different from real firearms, imitation and toy guns. In other words, all three categories of real, toy or imitation, and non-powder guns should look significantly different from one another. Such regulations are long overdue; in fact, more than two decades ago former CPSC Chairwoman Ann Brown recognized the dangers of toy and non-powder guns and called on the industry to stop producing lookalikes. Today, a CPSC safety alert warns, “BB guns can kill a person.”
Current regulations require “a blaze orange plug inserted in the barrel of such toy, look-alike, or imitation firearm,” or that toy guns be brightly colored singly or in combination with specified colors, have an orange marking on the barrel's exterior, or be made fully of transparent or translucent materials. Unfortunately, these orange tips are easily removed or camouflaged. Current statute states that the Department of Commerce “may provide for an alternate marking or device for any toy, look-alike, or imitation firearm.” Current regulations do not have any requirements regarding the appearance of non-powder guns. Such regulations, if adopted, would provide better protection for consumers and the general public.
In addition, the regulations concerning toy and imitation guns are over 30 years old and in need of an update. As early as 1990, a Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that “[r]eactions to the [alternate] markings by police personnel included ‘ineffective’; ‘ridiculous’; ‘ludicrous’; ‘that won’t make any difference”; and several more colorfully descriptive comments.” In fact, “[i]n all the site visits, every person the researchers spoke with expressed the belief that the minimal marking standards were sufficient.” An earlier study in 1989 found that 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. The study noted that “the orange plug marking system does not help police officers to distinguish between toy guns and real guns.”
Perhaps most concerning of all, children are unable to tell the difference between toy guns or imitation guns and real firearms. According to a 2018 study from Emory University, a majority of children could not tell the difference between a real gun and an imitation gun when presented with comparison photos. In contrast, a majority of parents, caregivers, and the children themselves were confident their children could distinguish between real and toy guns.
According to the Washington Post’s police shooting database, 153 people have died at the hands of police while holding either an air gun, imitation gun or toy gun guns since 2015. Analyzing data from 2015-2016, the Washington Post found that police shot and killed 53 people who were holding pneumatic BB or pellet guns,16 people who were holding Airsoft guns, 13 people who were holding replicas guns, and two people who were holding toy guns. Even more troubling, the numbers suggest that black and Latino individuals are more likely to be victims of these types of police shootings. Law enforcement, recognizing the dangers these unregulated air guns pose, have taken it upon themselves to warn the public of the dangers of wielding them in public.
As gun sales continue to fall, firearm manufacturers are looking for new and novel ways to target a younger demographic. Licensing deals whereby firearm manufacturers allow their products to be reproduced as imitation guns are part of a broader strategy to market their products to children.
It is past due time for Commerce to revise its regulations concerning toy guns and imitation guns and for the CPSC to strengthen regulations concerning non-powder guns. To that end, we ask the Department and the CPSC to adopt stricter specific mandatory regulations for such products. These regulations should require markings that are conspicuous and tamper-proof. Thank you in advance for you cooperation.