With an arsenal of menacing-looking toy guns spread before him--including a twin of the .45-caliber pistol that briefly held a television reporter hostage--state Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti announced on Wednesday that he will propose an outright ban on making and selling realistic-looking toy guns.
Under the proposed legislation, brandishing a fake gun threateningly, as well as distributing the phony weapons, would be a felony. "A toy gun in the playground is harmless," said Roberti. "A toy gun in a police situation can be deadly."
At his side was KNBC-TV consumer reporter David Horowitz, who was broadcasting live Aug. 19 when a man leveled a $31.99 plastic look-alike gun at him and demanded that he read the man's statement on the air.
"We're not trying to go after 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds who might be playing with toy guns in their front yards," he said, "but to send a message to the toy gun manufacturers that if they want to manufacture toys for people to play with, then make them look like toys."
"This is not a gun-control issue, this is not a constitutional issue," Horowitz declared later. "The Constitution guarantees you the right to bear arms. It says nothing about toy replica weapons that you can scare the hell out of someone with."
"Someone had to look at an Uzi and say 'Hey, let's make this thing look real,' " said Horowitz. "Well, what I say to the toy gun manufacturers, 'OK, let's make this thing look fake instead of real.' "
Since the Horowitz incident, Los Angeles County and a number of cities voted to make it a misdemeanor to brandish replica toy guns menacingly, and the City of Burbank voted to ban the sale of realistic toy arms altogether.
In September, Gov. George Deukmejian signed legislation--sponsored by Assemblyman Curtis R. Tucker (D-Inglewood) who was held up by someone carrying a real-looking toy gun--making it a misdemeanor to brandish a phony firearm threateningly. Roberti's legislation, mandating a felony for the offense, would supersede that penalty.
In recent years, at least four Southern Californians have been shot, two of them fatally, by law enforcement officers who mistook detailed toy guns for the real things. In one, a nationally publicized 1983 case, a Stanton policeman accidentally killed a 5-year-old boy clutching a real-looking toy pistol inside a darkened room.
Roberti, who cranked off a few noisy demonstration "rounds" on one of the fake guns, hopes toy manufacturers and distributors will cooperate with state agencies. "The most difficult aspect of this bill is going to be where we can draw the line between what's a toy gun and what's a real gun."
"Nobody wants to put toy manufacturers out of business," said Roberti. "We just want to make sure that they don't sell replications."