If your child is lobbying for a Police-Strike Force Assault Rifle for Christmas, you won't be able to get it much longer at Toys "R" Us.
The world's largest toy retailer announced yesterday that it will stop carrying "realistic" toy firearms after separate incidents in which police shot two New York City youths who were carrying toy guns. In one case, a 13-year-old holding a toy gun in a darkened stairwell was killed.
"The issue is the potential harm that these products pose to children and others," said Michael Goldstein, chief executive officer of the toy retail giant. "We believe that by taking this step that we can help raise awareness and encourage manufacturers and other retailers to join us in this effort."
Other retailers, including Kay-Bee Toys and Bradlees Inc., are expected to follow suit, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported the Toys "R" Us decision. Sears stopped selling its toy-gun line in 1988.
Toys "R" Us plans to stop buying look-alike weapons from manufacturers, including "western-style rifles and guns, plastic handguns and other guns that when modified can resemble real handguns, Mr. Goldstein said. But the company did not specify yesterday how many types of toy guns would disappear from the shelves after the remaining stock is sold.
Despite the lack of details, the Toys "R" Us announcement was welcomed by parents, police and gun-control advocates in Baltimore.
"I think it's a good idea, because guns seem to [encourage] children to think about situations or actions that are violent," said Sherry Frazier, the Baltimore parent of a 6-year-old girl.
But parents must also explain to their children why the toy weapons are being removed from the store aisles, said Patricia Woodward, who has two boys and a girl. Otherwise, "the only thing it's going to do is make them interested in it more," she said.
For police, the proliferation of look-alike guns complicates the split-second decisions made on the streets. Officers often can't tell whether a gun brandished by a suspect is real or not.
"We applaud Toys 'R' Us for taking toy guns that look real off the shelves," said Baltimore City Police spokesman Sam Ringgold. "Certainly we have seen a number of cases within the last year in which replica guns were pointed at officers."
Although federal legislation passed in 1988 requires markings on toy firearms to avoid confusion, police shootings sparked by look-alike guns continue to occur across the country. And the toys also figure in plenty of crimes. A 1990 study by the Police Executive Forum found that about 15 percent of U.S. robberies between 1985 and 1990 were committed with imitation guns. While toy guns represent less than 3 percent of all toys sold in the United States, they have long been a target of gun-control advocates.
Last year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders asked parents not to buy toy guns for their children for Christmas because the "play of cops and robbers has become a fatal reality for too many of our children."
"When you look at the reality of kids killing kids with real guns in record numbers, it is very dangerous to have these kind of toys available," agreed Cheryl Brolin, a spokeswoman for Handgun Control Inc., yesterday.
She and Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, praised the Toys "R" Us decision.
It "helps get the message out that guns are not toys," Mr. DeMarco said. "I've got two little boys myself. [For them], the line between reality and fantasy is very thin. It's very, very important to understand that guns are horribly dangerous things that you must stay away from. Then there are toys. Anything that blurs the lines like toy guns is very dangerous."
But Bob McMurray, of the Maryland State Rifle & Pistol Association, said he does not think it is necessary to remove any toys from retail stores. Parents simply need to make sure children don't brandish their toy weapons beyond their homes.
The Toys "R" Us decision is "being blown out of proportion by the anti-gunners," Mr. McMurray says. "This doesn't have anything to do with gun control. . . . It is an individual retailer's choice not to sell a product which it believes could potentially be dangerous if misused."
Yesterday, as Lisa and Tom Brogan were on their way into Toys "R" Us in Glen Burnie, they agreed that they wouldn't let their 2-year-old daughter, Ashley, have a gun.
"I don't believe in any kinds of guns," Mrs. Brogan said. But her husband wasn't as rigid. "I guess they promote violence," he said, "but I don't really have anything against them."