EFFORTS in California to ban realistic-looking guns from toy-store shelves hint at a welcome reversal of the popularity of war toys. How is it that ``visions of sugarplums'' have turned into visions of Rambo? The toys we give our children are instruments by which we teach them what we value.

It might be too late for this Christmas, but next year's Christmas trees may well have fewer realistic-looking toy guns under their boughs. Wrapping violence and war as a gift makes a sham of the spirit of Christmas, a time of celebrating ``Peace on earth.''

Several unfortunate incidents of toy guns being mistaken for lethal weapons raise questions about the $150 million toy weapon industry. On Aug. 19 a man wielding a realistic toy gun forced television reporter David Horowitz to read a statement on the air. This incident prompted the cities of Burbank and Santa Monica, Calif., to adopt ordinances banning the sale of realistic toy guns. The City Council of Los Angeles recently gave preliminary approval to a ban on the sale and manufacture of such products.

US Rep. Mel Levine of California has introduced legislation requiring that toy guns be clearly marked as such. One company has started applying bright orange markings to its toy guns to help differentiate them from the real thing.

Someday, we hope, children's playgrounds will not resemble battlefields.

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