Toying with Guns

Ever since Hollywood popularized Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, and Al Capone, more children have wanted to play with guns. But the guns kids play with these days are hardly crude mockups of the pearl-handled six-shooters of yesteryear. They include air guns that shoot plastic BBs, paint guns, laser guns, and other types - including those that look like automatic assault rifles.

In a media environment permeated with violence, parents should seriously reconsider letting their children use today's "toy" guns.

Some toy guns look so much like the genuine article that they've even fooled police officers, with tragic unintended consequences in far too many instances. So much so, that in 1988, Congress required that toy guns be identified with a "blaze orange" tip over the gun's nozzle. But kids (and adults) are taping over, or painting the tips.

And not all manufacturers have complied with Congress's rule, nor does the current law distinguish across the wide spectrum of toy guns available today. And, as reported by the toy industry's magazine, Playthings, toy sellers from Wal-Mart to Toys 'R Us are divided on the whole issue of selling toy guns.

Ever since a leading toy store pulled look-alike toy guns from its shelves in 1994, many others have followed. But many toy guns now are sold over the Internet, making enforcement of the 1988 law difficult.

When the Justice Department reports, as it did in June, that some 7,000 individuals were able to buy real weapons illegally in 2002-2003, and in spite of a mandated waiting period, law enforcement shouldn't also have to deal with the confusion caused between real and toy guns.

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