WASHINGTON — The display of weapons presented to a House subcommittee illustrated the problem. A pair of Uzi submachine guns. A pair of .45-caliber automatics. A pair of .22-caliber pistols.
Only by picking them up could you tell that one was a real gun and one was a child's plastic toy.
Thursday, the subcommittee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's panel on consumer protection, debated how best to prevent the dangerous confusion that can occur, particularly in police encounters, when toys are mistaken for actual weapons and vice versa.
Nationwide Ban Proposed
Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica) has introduced a bill that would impose a nationwide ban on all realistic looking toy guns.
His measure is being supported by many law enforcement officials as a more effective answer than a bill passed last spring by the Senate, which would require only that toy guns have bright orange markings on the barrels. That legislation, on which the House has not acted, was introduced by Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and was endorsed by the toy industry as an adequate remedy for the look-alike problem.
"My urgent effort now is to stop the Dole bill from becoming law," Levine said after the hearing. "Law enforcement people are terribly worried that these orange markings are not always visible. And it's even possible that criminals could put the same markings on their guns."
The problem of toy guns first came to national attention in 1983 when a 5-year-old Stanton, Calif., boy was shot by a policeman who thought the gun he was holding was real. Since then, police in California, New York and elsewhere have reported scores of incidents involving children, teen-agers and deranged adults brandishing realistic looking toy guns.
Testimony by Reporter
NBC-TV consumer affairs reporter David Horowitz urged the House subcommittee Thursday to enact federal standards to regulate toy guns because local and state laws cannot prevent the sale through the mails of realistic toy guns. Horowitz encountered the problem of toy guns first-hand last Aug. 19 when a man brandishing a replica of a .45-caliber pistol invaded NBC's studios in Burbank and stuck it in his back while he was on the air.
Since then, 15 cities in California have passed ordinances banning realistic looking toy guns, and a similar proposal for a statewide ban is pending in the Legislature in Sacramento.
But Dole's bill, if approved by Congress and signed into law, could invalidate the state and local laws.
Levine's bill would outlaw as a hazardous product toy guns that "are substantially similar in size and shape" to real guns.
The Senate and House are expected to resume work on the conflicting guns bills after they return from a recess in early September.