Saturday, January 2, 2016

Post No. 197: Have We Arrived at the Point Where We Should Consider Toy Gun Control?

© 2015, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

I do not know the source or provider of the toy gun being “wielded” by 12 year old Tamir Rice, who was killed by Cleveland police officers arriving on the scene. However, who provided the kid with the toy weapon is something which has bothered me since I first heard the story.

I also recognize that “kids” today are taller, larger, and in some instances, appear to be more mature in appearance, than in years past. (We might also consider addressing the distribution of human growth hormone to adults who might share it with their underage children to boost their Little League performance. But that’s a story for another day.)

Yet, I had toy guns when I was a kid, and never had to worry about police showing up in response to a call (or human growth hormones for that matter).

Knowing what I know today, and taking into consideration the intense media coverage and public debate surrounding officer involved shootings, if I were a black parent, or perhaps a grandparent, I would not buy any member of my family under the age of majority, any toy weapon which resembles a real weapon. If I were a white individual, even though I might not have the same level of concern, I would not let any of my kids play with such a weapon. Toy guns arguably rise to the level of illicit, street drugs, with respect to their danger potential, depending on your neighborhood. They can lead to your death, or that of your minor loved one.

The same arguably applies to extended family members, and friends and neighbors of the affected family, whether they be black, white, or polka dot (referring to the purchasing adults not the kids).

Several questions come to mind, assuming a kid is killed by police while wielding a toy gun. For purposes of this discussion, although I speak of toy guns, it is my intent to include any type of toy weapon, including toy knives, which, now that I think about it, I had as a kid, and which I could affix as a bayonet to my military style toy rifle):

1. Should adults (including parents) providing toy weapons to kids, killed by police who mistakenly think that the weapons are real, be responsible for the deaths?

2. Should those adults be civilly liable or perhaps have their other kids taken from them?

3. Should those adults be criminally liable, perhaps for child endangerment? (Or, should parents be charged with child endangerment when they inadequately prepare their kids for the dangers and complexities outside of the home before they reach the age of majority?)

4. Does an adult who is merely a passerby or who sees a kid with a weapon prior to the arrival of the police, and who thinks or knows that it is a toy, have any personal, ethical, moral, community, or societal responsibility to disarm the kid, or notify the parents, because a dangerous confrontation might develop once someone calls the police?

5. Does the adult making the call to the police bear any responsibility to determine whether the weapon is real?

5. Do the manufacturers of toy weapons bear any responsibility for making toys look so realistic that it is difficult to tell what’s real and what’s not, or as some would argue, for making any toy weapons at all?

6. Should manufacturers of toy weapons bear civil legal responsibility?

7. Should manufacturers of toy weapons bear criminal legal responsibility?

My blog’s target audience is college students, and my goal is to raise some personal responsibility issues (ahead of time) so that when stuff happens, at least they will have mulled the issues and considerations over, instead of trying come up with solutions on the spot. After all, There are More Than 2 or 3 Ways to View Any Issue; There are at Least 27. ™

Processing those 27 or more possible explanations for the kid having the weapon as the sirens blare and the force rolls up is a tad complicated for even the best trained and well-intentioned officers. So it arguably behooves us to think about this stuff before the call to 911, since the “talking heads” offer no solutions. But then again, perhaps we do not want law enforcement first responders considering the other 26 reasons if the goal is efficiency.

Would we, as a society, having answered or addressed any of the questions enumerated above, reduce the number of instances where kids are killed by police arriving on the scene after being informed that “someone” is carrying a “weapon.”

The cynic in me says no.

However, as we begin this New Year, in a nation where there is such a level of fear of others and we are seemingly incapable of addressing the number of officer involved shootings of adults (including those who have committed minor infractions but paid the ultimate penalty), I sure as hell hope that we adults at least figure out a way to deal with this kids with toy weapons issue.

I didn’t have to worry about carrying my toy weapons in the 1950s. Perhaps it was an expectation on my part that my adult parents and others in the community would protect me, as naïve as that may have been.

However, today, I can’t help but think that we purportedly responsible adults ought to be able to figure out something. After all, we are capable of sending a man [and now a woman] to the moon. We ought to be able to figure out how to keep our kids safe and allow them the freedom to play… and simply be kids.

The really is that we can't change how police perceive threats, and who they consider to be threats primarily driven by DNA. So the question is, "Have we arrived at the point where we should consider toy gun control," or leave it to free-market economic, private enterprise entities to police themselves?

Happy New Year


  1. BTW, I posted a link to this article on Twitter by posing the rhetorical question, "From whom did Tamir Rice acquire the toy gun?" Someone replied, "He stole it."

    I responded by indicating that I recognized that it was a theoretical possibility. The same reader who thought that he stole it replied, "I bet that it is a 50 / 50 chance."

    I wonder whether he is a policeman.

  2. Well thought out considerations of the issue--that should not be an issue. My first thought when this shooting happened and the toy gun became known was why would anyone let a child be playing alone with a toy gun, but especially a black child given the seeming disposition to "shoot on site" by many police officers?

  3. Thanks much for weighing in, Dan, and Happy New Year. In response to your question (and mine) as to how black parents would allow their kids to play with toy weapons unchaperoned, I suspect that there may be at least three possible reasons:

    1. The parents may have been able to play with such toy weapons when they were kids without having to worry about being mistakenly shot by the police;

    2. Part of being a kid is living a somewhat care-free existence without having to worry about heavyweight issues, and their parents may not want to deprive their kids of that period of innocence, since the earlier they become hardened and paranoid about the world's evil, the more likely they are to be "prematurely" serious; and

    3. The media covered the black football players and other students during the recent protest at the University of Missouri where the President resigned after the students claimed that they were the subject of offensive, racial epithets and such, and they felt that the University had not done enough to "stop" or address them. Although not explicitly stated, it suggests that the blacks students feel that they should be able to live their lives free of insults, and other offensive conduct directed toward members of their group, which I think may not be the most realistic or effective way to handle such offensive conduct, but it is not outside of the realm of responses one could anticipate when analyzing the situation. I personally think that the students were totally wrong, and I rarely state such definitive opinions. However, I can understand why they might feel the way they do.

  4. Dan, you what also you occurred to me in reading your direct e-mail response to me? Gang members in dangerous neighborhoods could mistake a kid with a toy gun as being a potential threat....

  5. If I may, the post was well-written and well thought out. My first question on hearing about this incident (tragedy, really) was "who modified the toy to make it look more real?"
    When I was 14, I bought a starter's pistol and then brought it to a dance at my town's Unified Hall (a regular Friday event). That I was stupid and pulled it out in the bathroom brought the police to the dance. They confronted me, and I was not stupid enough to pull the weapon from my waist band, they took it gingerly from me and gave me a lecture, an earned and earnest one. They also let my parents know what I had done. My incident, therefore, did not end in tragedy though it easily could have.
    Again, I wonder if we'll ever know the answer to my question? Because that, and the boy's attempt to pull the "gun" from his waist band that turned this into a tragedy.

    1. Thanks, as always, Douglas, for your thoughts and for providing a real life, first hand account with which many can relate. I, like many kids, did my share of stupid stuff but it never seemed to have life-threatening consequences.

      Shortly after the decision not to pursue the Cleveland officers further, one of the media outlets compared the toy weapon in question with an actual weapon which it was apparently designed to resemble. (It may have been the spokesperson for the agency which decided not to pursue the police officers in an effort to show how the arriving officers may have mistaken the toy for a real weapon.)

      The question immediately arose as to why would a manufacturer make a toy weapon which so closely resembles the real thing? Would a child be more likely to purchase it? Would a parent?

      How would a child know whether it was more or less realistic? From watching television shows or movies?

      If I remember correctly, some jurisdictions require that toy weapons be in certain colors or stripes or patterns which no real weapon would be, or is that a problem in and of itself? Do you think that a manufacturer might start making polka dot or red striped real weapons?

      I don't know. I can't make much sense of the whole gun mentality myself. I guess that I am just one of the outliers. As I indicated in Post No. 196, I just don't "feel" a gun, although I understand how others might feel differently, depending on their DNA.

      Happy New Year.

    2. Happy New Year to you, too. When I was a young'n I think you guns were green or some color other than black. There were cap guns that looked fairly real but were smaller and were more easily detectable. Still, those were more innocent times with less violence of any kind.

  6. The case in Cleveland involving Tamir Rice has received more national attention because of the age of Tamir and the fact that he died. There is another case involving toy weapons in Southern California involving the Los Angeles Police Department, where the 15 year old shot was not holding a weapon, but also did not die. Just today, a commission determined that the officer was justified in shooting. Read the facts of this case and determine whether the kids themselves should be held accountable, or the parents.

  7. Ahhh... Now it has become even more complicated. A weapons manufacturer is marketing a weapon, which it claims "responsible citizens" can use as a concealed weapon. The new weapons resembles a smartphone. How will the police react?

  8. I remember hearing about this incident in seventh grade, along with every other one similar to it. I never thought we'd be considering gun control for toys.


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