A gun isn't a toy, except when it is. And when it is, sometimes it's hard to tell that it isn't, says Slate. When you're a cop who assumes that it is, you tend to respond by drawing your own gun and firing it. That's how a fake gun can lead to people dying. Last month, a Los Angeles police officer shot Jamar Nicholson, 15, in the back after mistakenly assuming that the toy gun with which the boy and his friends were playing was real. Nicholson lived, and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck rested the blame neither on the teenage victim or his officers, but on the toy-gun industry.
The problem wasn't that the officer shot too soon, but that the fake gun looked too real. The solution, Beck argued, is for manufacturers to take steps to make these guns look less real. “How about not configuring them to have the exact dimensions and machining as a real gun?” Beck told the Los Angeles Times. It happened in Cleveland last year, when a rookie cop shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice after mistaking the boy's nonlethal Airsoft gun, a modern take on the classic BB gun, for a real one. Fake guns that look real are a problem. The police “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality is a problem, too. Since 1989, federal law has required toy guns to have bright orange caps at the tips of their barrels. But the caps are easily removed.