The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday voted to ban the sale or manufacture of realistic toy guns--too late to have much impact on big holiday sales of toys, but early enough to help shape the way the toy industry will deal with the problem of crimes being committed with toy guns.
In the unanimous vote of the council, Los Angeles joined Burbank and Santa Monica in the Southern California trend toward outlawing such toys and became the first major city in the nation to approve such a law.
There was no organized opposition to the bill authored by Councilman Nate Holden. The $200-million toy gun industry already has begun to deal with the expected nationwide response and has taken some steps to abide by new regulations.
Toys R Us, the largest retailer of toys nationwide, said it has begun notifying manufacturers that it will no longer carry realistic toy guns at any of its 26 stores in Southern California or its 313 stores nationwide, said spokeswoman Angela Bourdon from the company's New Jersey headquarters.
The impetus, she said, came from the fallout from events like the Aug. 19 drama when KNBC-TV consumer reporter David Horowitz was held hostage on the air by a man wielding a toy pistol and demanding to have a statement read on the broadcast.
"Even if these incidents happened on the other side of the country, we are always concerned with the safety of children," Bourdon said.
Daisy Manufacturing Co., one of the nation's largest makers of toy guns, has begun to "de-replicate" its lines of toy and air-powered guns, said Robert Reid, marketing vice president of the Arkansas-based firm.
The biggest consumers of toy guns are children aged 3 1/2 to 7, and they "have always aspired to have the most realistic-looking guns possible," Reid said.
With laws like the one approved by the Los Angeles City Council likely to be enacted around the country, Reid said, Daisy has begun applying bright orange markings on the front and sides of its toy guns to help differentiate them from the real thing.
But, Reid said, laws like the one in Los Angeles may have gone too far. By lumping toys and air-powered guns--which are capable of shooting plastic or metal projectiles with compressed gas power--the lawmakers "may be making a tragic mistake," Reid said.
"The markings will be an indication to policemen that the (air) gun is harmless," he said, when they actually are capable of inflicting injury.
Daisy is supporting federal legislation introduced in October by Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica) that would set federal guidelines on how toy guns would be marked to help set a uniform standard across the country and avoid a patchwork of local ordinances.
Los Angeles County has already made it a crime to brandish replicas of weapons in a threatening manner, and a similar statewide law, signed in September by Gov. George Deukmejian, goes into effect on Jan. 1.
The city ordinance defines firearms the same as those covered by the state's dangerous weapons-control law. It specifically defines a replica or facsimile of a firearm as "any device or object manufactured of plastic, wood, metal or any other material that can reasonably be perceived as an actual firearm."
Included under the law are air rifles, pellet guns and BB guns, in addition to toys and replica guns. Any violation would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and as much as six months in jail.
The sole exception, under an amendment proposed by Councilman Richard Alatorre, are non-firing collectors' replicas made before 1898.
The mayor has 10 days in which to sign or veto the bill or allow it to become law without his signature. The ordinance would have to be published and would take effect 30 days later. That would push its effective date into January, even if the measure is approved by Bradley.