Super soaker schism

July 24, 1992

Much ado over nothing -- that's how some people regard the controversy over the Super Soaker water guns that are so popular this summer. The Anne Arundel County state's attorney, however, thinks the issue is serious enough to move ahead with prosecution against two teens who shot a girl in the eye -- not with acid as the girl's mother originally feared -- but with tap water.

Some people across the country want the guns removed from stores because they have been misused by some, even filled with bleach by the truly stupid. The mayor of Boston wanted them banned in Beantown after a 15-year-old was killed as a result of a water-gun fight. A New Jersey lawmaker also wants to outlaw them.

For the uninitiated and still dry among us, the Super Soaker is a relatively new toy more powerful than prior-generation water weapons. Despite the disadvantage of not having grown up on spaghetti westerns, legions of children nonetheless are quite proficient with these pump-action rifles. By forcing air into a chamber that holds up to a half-gallon of water, the guns shoot a narrow stream up to 50 feet. The toys, ranging in price from $10 to $30, have inexplicably swollen the evil within minds that were small to begin with.

There have been reports of young people putting bleach in the guns to fire at people. An Edgewood woman was such a victim; a group of teens in a passing car motioned her over while she was traveling in her own vehicle, then shot her in the eye. Police said they have no suspects.

We have traveled this route before. In the 1950s, a young deputy attorney general named Charles McC. Mathias, later to become a U.S. senator, was involved in a controversy over the dangers of "cap guns." Later, BB guns became popular and raised adult ire when they were used for destructive purposes. In the 1970s, a toy called "klick-klacks" -- two acrylic balls attached by string -- brought juveniles joy, except when they were turned into versions of David's slingshot.

The controversy has been a great nuisance for Larami Corp., which would just as soon count its Super Soaker revenues in peace. The problem is a social one, the company feels -- correctly so -- and not the fault of its trendy toy.

"It's like saying if someone took a baseball bat and hit someone over the head with it, does that mean the baseball bat is bad?," a company spokesman offers. A most apropos analogy in our area the case of Pedro Lugo, who received severe head injuries from a baseball bat beating last year. No one blamed the bat.

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