Criminal Law

New York Targets Illegal Sales of Toy Guns

Does your child or someone you know have a toy gun? Playing "cops and robbers" or "army soldier" has, and continues to be, part of many children's pastime. Make sure the fake guns can't be mistaken for real weapons.

Real-looking plastic guns are illegally sold in toy stores throughout the United States. Too often, these toy guns lead to someone being shot with the real thing. To help stem the violence, New York is cracking down on retailers that sell realistic toy guns.

Fake Guns Cause Real Tragedy

Police shot and killed a California man on Christmas Eve 2009 after he failed to drop his gun. It turned out the gun was a toy.

Twice during the summer of 2009, Dallas police pulled guns on people waving around fake firearms that looked real. One incident involved a teenager playing with a plastic pellet pistol.

New York City has suffered several tragedies involving toy guns. During the five-year period, 1998 through 2003, there were at least 12 cases in which New York police fired at someone because their toy gun was thought to be a real weapon.

In 1994, a New York City officer fatally shot a 13-year-old boy who was playing cops and robbers with friends in an apartment complex. The boy's toy rifle looked dangerously real to the officer.

Laws Ban Sales of Realistic Toy Guns

To help prevent the dangers posed by toy guns, federal law requires fake guns to be transparent, brightly colored, or have a bright orange tip at the end of the barrel. New York state law goes further to ban toy guns that are black, blue, silver, or aluminum, and toy firearms must have bright orange stripes that run up both sides of the barrel.

Early in 2009, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo sent letters ordering over 100 retailers to stop selling toy guns that weren't properly marked as imitations. Warnings went to manufacturers, local stores, and national retailers like Big Lots, Dollar Tree and Dollar General. Investigators visited dozens of stores throughout New York and found that most sold toy guns that didn't comply with the state law.

Toy guns can't be sold in New York City unless they are colored bright green, blue, red or another neon color. Over the past seven years, city officials have seized over 7,200 illegal toy guns from stores and levied $2.4 million in fines. Retailer Party City paid a record $500,000 in fines for 800 violations of the city's toy gun law.

New York City passed even tougher toy gun laws to take effect in 2010. Fines for selling illegal toy guns will go from $1,000 to $5,000 for a first offense and up to $8,000 for repeat offenses. It'll also be easier for the City to temporarily close stores that continue to break the law.

Toy Guns Can Be Deadly

Children and adults are injured and killed every year across the county because toy guns look real. To help protect yourself and your family:

  • Don't buy or play with realistic toy guns. Toy guns should be transparent or brightly colored with bright orange markings on the barrel.
  • Don't remove or cover up the bright markings on toy guns. In some places, it's a crime to alter the markings.
  • Don't take toy guns to school.  Many schools have a zero tolerance policy that bans any type of real or fake weapon.
  • Don't take toy guns to airports. A North Carolina airport was put on lockdown for two hours last month after a screener caught sight of a boy's toy gun in a bag.
  • Play with toy guns only at home with people you know. You could be charged with a crime for threatening someone with a gun, even if it's only a toy.
  • Don't let kids fire cap guns closer than a foot from their ears or use them indoors. The sound could damage their hearing.
  • Don't let kids put gun caps in their pockets. They could ignite and cause burns.
  • Nonpowder guns (BB guns, pellet guns, air rifles, paintball guns) are dangerous weapons that shouldn't be considered toys.
  • Keep real guns out of the reach of children. It's especially hard for kids to tell if guns are toys or real.

Playing with toy guns isn't always fun and games. Be aware of the risks to prevent needless harm and injuries. 

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I return real-looking toy guns to the store and get my money back?
  • Is it illegal to take the orange plug and stripes off of a toy gun?
  • Can I be arrested for carrying a realistic prop gun?
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