TRENTON, NJ — Citing several high-profile fatal police shootings involving children playing with toy guns over the last five years— including the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014 and the 13-year-old Tyre King in 2016— legislation taking steps to ban the sale of realistic-looking toy guns cleared an Assembly panel Thursday.
Assembly Democrats Britnee Timberlake, Thomas Giblin, Cleopatra Tucker and Ralph Caputo sponsor the measure, which was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Tamir Rice, 12-year old African American male, was shot on November 22, 2014, by a Cleveland police officer. Rice was playing with a toy gun. Tyre King, a 13-year-old was shot by police after he pulled a BB gun from his waistband in Columbus, Ohio in 2016. At least 28 people with BB guns were shot and killed by police in 2015 alone.
The bill (A-4260) prohibits the sale of toy guns and imitation firearms that appear to be genuine firearms. An “imitation firearm” is defined in New Jersey’s firearm statutes as an object or device that is reasonably capable of being mistaken for a firearm.
The measure aims to stop or reduce the number of accidental police involved shootings related to toy guns.
“Unfortunately, when a law enforcement officer is called to a scene and has to make a split-second decision, it can be difficult to differentiate between a real weapon and an imitation,” said Timberlake (D-Essex/Passaic). “If the officer is wrong in assuming that a toy is a real weapon, it can result in tragedy for a child at play. If the officer hesitates, believing that a real weapon is a toy, it can result in tragedy for the officer. By putting restrictions on the sale of replica weapons, we can provide some better distinctions between toy guns and real guns could help teachers, law enforcement, and students properly determine a threat when a student brings a real or fake firearm to school.”
“The lives lost sadly haven’t convinced retailers to stop selling lookalikes in their stores,” said Giblin (D-Essex). “Maybe the notion of having to pay a fine that far exceeds what these imitation guns are even worth will deter production of these realistic-looking toys. Safety always has to be the top priority.”
The legislation outlines the parameters toy manufacturers must follow to ensure these toys are not mistaken for real weapons. A toy gun or imitation firearm is required to:
1) be a color other than black, blue, silver, or aluminum;
2) be marked with a non-removable orange stripe that is at least one inch in width and runs the entire length of each side of the gun’s barrel; and
3) have a barrel that is at least one inch in diameter and closed at a distance of at least one-half inch from the barrel’s front end with the same material of which the toy gun or imitation firearm is made.
“As a mother and a grandmother, I shudder to think that a child can be playing one moment and dead the next simply because an officer was unable to determine whether a gun was real or a toy,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “Looking at shootings that have happened all across the country. Young people who have died tragically. It’s crucial to preventing unnecessary deaths to take steps to make it immediately obvious that a toy gun is a toy.”
“The tragic wake-up call is that realistic looking toy guns can prove just as great of a threat as a real one if it is hard to tell that the toy is actually a toy,” said Caputo (D-Essex). “For the sake of children in all of our communities, we need to eliminate any ambiguities that could threaten their safety.”
“Toy gun” is defined as a facsimile or reproduction of a firearm that is marketed as a product intended for children or is substantially similar in appearance, size, and shape to a genuine firearm.
The bill exempts theatrical firearms that are used in movie and film productions and establishes penalties for violations at a maximum of $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
The Senate companion measure is set to be reviewed by committee on Thursday. It will now go to the Speaker for further review.