NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Concerns that realistic-looking toy weapons are confusing police and threatening safety have led 15 states to try going beyond gun control and cracking down on fake firearms.
Officer Micheal Hoover knows a fair amount about guns as a sniper instructor for a Tennessee SWAT team. He recalls the night two years ago when a car pulled up beside him on a highway and the passenger waved what looked like an Uzi.
"It scared me," he said. "If anyone is in their right mind, I don't see how it wouldn't."
Hoover was off duty and called for police help. A 20-year-old man was charged with aggravated assault after police found a black plastic Uzi submachine gun under the car's passenger seat, but he was acquitted because jurors felt the officer should have been able to tell it was only a toy.
Lawmakers across the country are coming to a different conclusion, deciding that it is so hard to differentiate the toys from the fakes that public safety demands they take action.
Among those 15 states, seven bills limiting fake guns are pending this year and 21 have been enacted since 1990, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some states have enacted or are considering multiple measures. They range from prohibiting imitation firearms in vehicles to banning the toys from convenience stores.