When it comes to combating gun violence, one state senator has taken his plea directly to parents. Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, urged parents to throw out realistic-looking toy weapons, saying children cannot possibly understand the risk of playing with them.
“I am making a plea for parents and guardians to throw away children’s toys that resemble real weapons,” a statement from Thomas’ office read. “Once again an Ohio child has been shot and killed by a police officer who says they believed the child posed a legitimate threat. Children do not understand the danger these imitation weapons pose.”
The statement was in response to the recent death of Tyre King, a 13-year-old boy who was shot by police officers in Columbus after drawing a realistic-looking toy handgun from his waistband. King died shortly afterward at a children’s hospital.
The statement took no side in regards to the shooting, instead advocating for action that will help prevent more deaths in the future.
Thomas’ statements echo ones espoused in the past by public safety advocates and citizens following the deaths of minors during police interactions, most notably those surrounding the death of Tamir Rice, another Ohio minor.
Incidents involving children and toys guns, convincing or not, have been around for years. Proposed solutions include mandating that toy guns have a bright orange tip or be painted in bright colors. Others, such as a recent New Jersey bill, have gone farther and banned the products altogether if they don’t meet particular standards.
Jennifer Thorne, the executive director for the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, elaborated on how toy firearms can pose real challenges for law enforcement and parents.
“Certainly there’s a huge problem with these airsoft rifles and BB guns that are manufactured to look identical to real firearms,” Thorne said. “It can be extremely confusing for individuals as well as for law enforcement to tell the difference between what is considered to be a toy and what actually is a deadly weapon.”
A long history of children wielding toy firearms and being stopped (and sometimes killed) has yet to lead to any meaningful solution. Part of the problem is the challenge law enforcement officers face when trying to identify whether they’re facing a harmless toy or a deadly weapon.
Broader debate over gun control and toy firearms has been rife lately, though little legislative action has been taken nationally or in Ohio. Advocate groups on both sides have worked to enact change, often to little effect.
“Our legislative priority is advancing any positive piece of gun violence prevention legislation, including these kinds of bills that would hopefully reduce the presence of toy guns that look real,” Thorne said.
When asked about the true lethality of a toy that could be mistaken for an actual gun, she continued to stress how easily the fake can be mistaken for the real product.
“I don’t want to rush to judgement, but I can certainly see how these toy guns that look real could be very confusing and lead to dangerous situations,” Thorne said.
For now, parents are advised to monitor any toy firearms in their children’s possession and to use caution when they’re used outside of the home. Until then, Thomas, advocacy groups and other legislators across the nation will continue their efforts to bring an end to gun violence.