“I’m a gun owner. I was in a gun shop and shooting range last week. A man came in with his daughter who looked no more than 8 years old. She quickly spotted a pink handgun on display. She was convinced that it was a toy and told her father that she wanted to hold it. I asked the sales clerk if this was common, and he said that kids always think the pink guns are toys.”
– Toymaker Rhett Power (2013)
When this organization first reported on the fact that gun manufacturers were starting to make real guns that looked like toys back in 2006 or 2007, it seemed like a bad joke; something out of a twilight episode. An absurd proposition that nobody would be stupid enough to actually do. Sadly, it’s not a joke, and this deadly serious problem has only grown substantially since those early days. Such child-alluring firearms have now grown in number and variety, and unfortunately, they “are flying off the shelves at gun stores.” (ibid)
This dangerous trend gained traction as a feud between gun manufacturers and legislators. When the mayor of New York complained that BB guns and pellet guns looked too much like the real thing (which was leading to children being shot by police) he proposed legislation to address this. The gun industry rebelled by manufacturing guns that were specifically designed to look like toys. They even came printed with a cartoon mocking the mayor on the handle.
Around the time this was going on, gun manufacturers were also discovering that there was a market for this sort of thing. Since guns are a solid metal product that is resistant to ware, the gun industry has always been plagued by a big problem: How does a company continue to increase sales year after year? They’ve discovered that by sprucing guns up and making them novel and collectible, they could get people to buy more of something that is already way too abundant in the world.
As Rhett Power states, “Colorful handguns and even ‘Hello Kitty’ semiautomatic rifles are part of a marketing effort to get firearms in the hands of women and younger buyers. The effort has paid off. In a survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 73% of gun dealers said sales to female customers had risen in 2011. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, women’s participation in shooting sports has surged by more than 50% for target shooting in the past decade and by more than 40% for hunting.” (ibid) You can now buy handguns in hot pink, neon yellow, bright orange, and every other kid-alluring color on the planet. There are Hello Kitty handguns, My Little Pony guns, and firearms that feature many other cartoon characters. It’s been a boon to the gun industry, but a disaster for those who care about the lives of children.
The problem of mistaken identity when it comes to guns
This is such a big problem because, as anyone familiar with safety knows, a large number of accidental shootings occur because kids find a gun and assume it isn’t real. They think it’s a play gun or a squirt gun or maybe a paintball gun that someone left lying around. In fact, this mistaken assumption is probably the leading cause of accidental firearm deaths among children. Even before the toy look-alikes came out, studies found that kids as old as 12 struggle to tell the difference between real guns and play ones. (Moninger, 2013) The fact that now actual firearms are being specially designed to appeal to kids and look like toys is only going to worsen this situation.
This is more than a hypothetical concern. We’re already seeing plenty of cases where this confusion has contributed to a tragedy. For example, on February 1st, 2013, a 3-year-old boy in Greenville, South Carolina, was killed by a gun kept in the house by his mother. The boy’s 7-year-old sister had discovered the pink handgun, and both kids had assumed it was a toy. They soon found out otherwise, with tragic results. (ibid)
It’s important you talk with your own kids about this issue, and please spread the word to other parents.