A Republican in the New Jersey Assembly, who used to be a cop, argues her legislation, while well-intentioned, might backfire and empower criminals.
But Jasey is afraid children are going to be killed by cops because they are waving around toy guns that are too realistic.
“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 New Jersey Assembly Democrat Mila Jasey.
As a result, Jasey is a co-sponsor of legislation that would outlaw toy guns that look too much like the real thing.
It is already a crime to use an imitation or toy gun to make people such as a crime victim believe it’s the real thing.
But the legislation sponsored by Jasey, Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (D) and Speaker Emeritus Sheila Oliver was approved by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee in late September.
At least 11 other states and many municipalities already have similar laws and ordinances in place.
Oliver wrote the proposed legislation after 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot to death by Cleveland police officers who couldn’t tell if he was holding a toy gun or a real sidearm. It was a toy.
“I am sorry,” Oliver said in testimony before the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee. “I take umbrage with that when there is something like this that can be purchased in a confectionary store and a 12-year-old can be dead.”
Tragic, to be sure, but does that kind of thing happen all that often?
The Associated Press reported there have been 25 deaths since 1994 involving police officers thinking lookalike guns were the real thing and opening fire on the people holding them.
Still, the New Jersey bill (A-1119) would prohibit the sale of toy guns that are “substantially similar” to the real thing, and “are reasonably capable of being mistaken for firearms.”
For a toy gun or imitation firearm to be legal for sale under the bill, it would have to be a color other than black, blue, silver or aluminum. It would also have to be marked with a non-removable orange stripe, except in the case of water guns.
It would also have to have a barrel at least one inch in diameter that is closed at least one-half inch from the front end of the barrel with the same material from which it is made.
A violation of the bill’s provisions would carry a penalty of up to $500 for the first offense and up to $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
It all looks good on paper, but some Republicans don’t think requiring orange stripes on toy guns made sense.
Politico reported Republican Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll said he’s seen a photo of a real AK-47 painted pink with a Hello Kitty theme.
“If I were a cop and I saw someone toting a bright pink firearm I might, of course, think it’s not real, which it turns out to be,” he said.
Speaking of the cops, Assemblyman David Rible (R), a retired police officer, spoke against the bill. He told the committee that the legislation might lead criminals to paint orange stripes on the barrels of real guns so that police would think they were facing a toy.
“I think we’re setting ourselves up for a larger unintended consequence,” Rible said.
The Courier-Post reported Rible also said a recent study found that most (96 percent) police officers couldn’t tell the difference between a real gun and a toy weapon, in a shoot/don’t shoot scenario, even if the toy was painted with an orange stripe.
However, Rible isn’t the only ex-cop in this debate.
“When the lives of New Jersey residents are at stake, safety always has to be the top priority,” said Johnson, a former county sheriff.
“The lives lost sadly haven’t convinced retailers to stop selling look-alikes in their stores,” Johnson added, “but hopefully the notion of having to pay a fine that far exceeds what these imitation guns are even worth will be a deterrent.”
But NBC News reported that in Arlington, Texas, 20 percent of the weapons confiscated between March and August 2016 turned out to be lookalikes.
“There’s no training in the world that we know of where an officer can readily distinguish a real gun from a fake gun,” police Lt. Christopher Cook told NBC News. “That’s not realistic because officers have to make split-second decisions to ascertain whether it’s a firearm or not.”
Which is exactly why Assemblywoman Jasey said her legislation must be approved.
“Looking at the spate of recent shooting deaths of young people who have died tragically,” Jasey said, “it’s imperative to take steps to make it immediately obvious that a toy gun is a toy.”