The Washington Post has decided to brighten up the holiday season by publishing a special report on toys. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about the latest action figures packed into Santa’s bag of goodies when he comes down the chimney, but the sale of realistic looking toy guns. There have certainly been quite a few instances of people being shot by the police when they were waving around replicas, pellet guns or plastic toys, but many questions remain as to what – if anything – the government can or should do about it. Still, some of the numbers they cite are certainly grim.
Police across the country say that they are increasingly facing off against people with ultra-real-looking pellet guns, toy weapons and non-functioning replicas.
Such encounters have led police to shoot and kill at least 86 people over the past two years, according to a Washington Post database of fatal police shootings nationwide. So far this year, police have fatally shot 43 people wielding the guns. In 2015, police also killed 43.
The Post analysis is the first accounting of fatal police shootings involving people armed with air guns, toys or replicas, a phenomenon last studied in depth more than 25 years ago, when Congress first sought to address the problem of police shootings involving toy guns. The 86 shooting deaths are among the nearly 2,000 people shot and killed by police since 2015, which The Post is tracking, something no government agency does.
Before getting to the debate over what to do about this, the study of these 86 police shootings in two years produced some fascinating data points. One is the claim that nearly half of the suspects (38) had a “history of mental illness.” I put that in quotes because the records they rely on include anyone with a family member or responding law enforcement officer reporting that mental illness had been alleged, not just people with a documented medical history of such issues. Still, as we’ve noted here in many aspects of the gun control debate, mental illness is a very real problem which deserves more attention and frequently complicates gun rights conversations.
Here’s another interesting factoid which might come as a surprise. (Emphasis added)
Of the people killed, 50 were white men. The oldest person killed was Robert Patrick Quinn, 77, who was fatally shot in Pittston, Pa., as he rode his motorized scooter outside an apartment complex while waving a realistic-looking pellet gun.
When you hear about people with toy guns being shot, one of the most frequently mentioned names is that of Tamir Rice. He was a black youth who died as a result of a tragic accident brought on by poor communications among police officers and poor supervision or instructions from adults when it comes to waving around what looks like a functional weapon in the public square. But of the 86 suspects who were killed, 50 of them were white men. Whether this is because white people are more stupid or just the simple realities of racial distribution demographics I leave up to the reader, but the numbers run counter to some of the common themes we hear in this debate.
None of this addresses the bottom line, however. The Post article is once again bringing up the argument over whether or not the government should ban or severely restrict and regulate the production of these realistic looking toys, replicas and pellet guns. This gets warped into a Second Amendment question far too often in my opinion and flies in the face of what should be the more fundamental assumptions. Forcing manufacturers to paint their product a different color or attach an orange tip to the barrel is an ineffective measure because paint is cheap and orange tips can be removed with simple and commonly available hand tools. The arguments over whether or not the police should be shooting people who are “armed with toys” is also disingenuous. When you point something that looks very much like an actual weapon at the police during a tense encounter, bad things are going to happen. (The WaPo study reveals that in 60 of the 86 shootings the suspect pointed the “weapon” at police officers.)
You seem to have two choices remaining. You either ban the existence of realistic toy guns entirely or you work on educating the public so that everyone knows that you shouldn’t be pointing them at people in public and most certainly not at the cops. And in the case of children, parents need to be especially well informed. Do you want a nation of personal responsibility and common sense or one where the government simply bans anything which might eventually prove dangerous? If you choose the latter course, stock up on toasters because they may be illegal any day now.