New York Attorney General Letitia James (D.) wants stricter regulations not just on the real gun industry but the toy one too.
In a letter sent on Monday to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, James called for new federal rules concerning the likeness of toy firearms to real weapons. She asked for toy guns, BB guns, and airsoft guns that look too much like genuine firearms to be banned but did not provide specifics on where the new line should be drawn.
“I write today concerning the long-standing need for strong, coherent federal regulations mandating distinct visual differences between three categories of consumer products: 1) toy, lookalike, and imitation guns, 2) non-powder (bb, air and pellet) guns, and 3) firearms,” James said in her letter. “The ready availability of products that are visually indistinguishable from real, lethal powder firearms has, for decades, proven to have dangerous and—far too often—deadly consequences.”
The move is just the latest in a series of recent announcements from the New York Attorney General regarding the regulation of guns. Last week, she praised California Governor Gavin Newsom (D.) for his plan to use the model of a Texas abortion law to target gun sales and said she will pursue a similar strategy. She also publicly criticized a new gun industry lawsuit against a New York law imposing civil liability on gun manufacturers and dealers, which she has promised to defend.
In her latest request, James said the Christmas season made new rules for the sale of toy guns all the more urgent.
“As families conclude their holiday shopping and some purchase toy guys for their children, the last thing we want is for a Christmas gift to turn into a Christmas nightmare,” she said in a statement. “When toy guns are indistinguishable from actual firearms, the consequences can, and have been, deadly. We must take action to protect our children and our communities.”
The resemblance of toy firearms to real weapons has been federally regulated since 1989. Current rules require a toy firearm to have either a permanently affixed blaze orange plug inserted in the firearm’s barrel, a blaze orange marking on the exterior of the barrel, be constructed entirely of transparent materials, or be covered in certain other approved bright colors.
James said the current standards are insufficient to ensure public safety.
“Existing regulations, essentially unchanged for decades, have proven inadequate to protect the health and welfare of Americans,” she said.
She said the inability of police officers to distinguish real and fake guns has led to many avoidable officer-involved shootings, including those involving minors. Though, she also admitted police have mistaken many objects for guns during stressful exchanges even when they bear no resemblance to them.
James also said fake guns often get used in real crimes. She pointed to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study from 1990 which found that police recover thousands of fake crime-guns every year.
She praised the Biden Administration’s willingness to use executive actions on guns in the past and suggested that new actions on toy guns would be a natural fit.
“From the outset, this administration has demonstrated a clear and consistent willingness to use the levers of its regulatory authority to protect consumers and to take on our gun violence epidemic,” James said. “I believe this issue — which sits at a critical intersection between those two key priorities — deserves to be part of that ambitious agenda.”
New York recently narrowed the options for toy gun makers to only guns that are transparent or brightly colored, outlawing the manufacture or sale of all other kinds of toy guns. James said she wants federal lawmakers to do the same and then go further. She did not elaborate on what other changes she would like to see.
Officials with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry trade group, told The Reload James’ priorities are misplaced when it comes to protecting public safety in New York.
“This is yet another example of Attorney General James using the weight of her office to target industry instead of criminals,” Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the NSSF, told The Reload. “Nowhere in her letter to the Secretary of Commerce does Attorney General James make any mention of efforts to hold criminals accountable for their crimes, whether they are illegally using a firearm or threatening others with replica firearms.”
The group is currently leading the industry lawsuit against James and the state’s liability law for gun manufacturers. He called her attempts to see new federal regulations imposed unnecessary and suggested she focus on prosecuting criminals in her state instead of continuing to target the industry.
“Attorney General James seeks to layer regulations on industries instead of holding responsible those criminals who wrongfully and criminally misuse products to commit their heinous acts,” he said. “New Yorkers would be better served if Attorney General James pursued policies that actually locked up criminals and protected the citizens she serves.”
UPDATE 12-21-2021 11:48 AM: This piece has been updated to include comments from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.