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Friday 11 April 2003

Toy Gun Idiocy

Wal-Mart is in trouble in New York state for selling toy guns that don’t have the right markings. wal-Mart says that they only have to comply with federal law on this, and not with New York’s specific regulations.

Toy guns must have orange stripes along the barrel that cannot be removed, according to New York Law.

But federal law requires toy guns to have an orange cap on the end of the barrel, and Wal-Mart complies with this law.

I don’t think Wal-Mart has a leg to stand on here; they’re selling the things in New York, so New York laws are definitely applicable.

That’s not the idiocy, though. The idiocy is this: presumably toy guns need to be clearly identifiable as such so that the police can avoid shooting people who are brandishing toy guns and thus not actually presenting any danger.

Repeating: orange-striped gun, the police assume it’s a toy, and they don’t shoot you.

Won’t it be a simple matter for the no-goodniks to paint orange stripes down the sides of their guns? While the police hesitate, thinking they’re facing a toy gun, they get shot with the real, but painted, gun.

A better law would be to tell the police to shoot people who point guns at them, whether they’re toys or not. I don’t think that effectively barring the pointing of toy guns at the police is really much of an imposition on liberty.

Posted by tino at 15:12 11.04.03
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Excellent point. One that, in retrospect, should be obvious, but which seems to have struck neither the N.Y. legislature nor the AG. It still seems to me, however, that manufacturing and selling toy weapons that exactly replicate the appearance of a genuine Glock (or whatever) is not something that one would want to encourage. Of course, waving such a toy around in public in an urban area in such a way that others would think it real is probably tempting fate and Darwin.

Posted by: Jim at April 12, 2003 08:18 AM

Oddly enough, from a legal standpoint, Walmart might have a good argument that the New York law does not apply. The Dormant Commerce Clause divests states from regulating certain types of conduct that might interfer with interstate commerce.

For example, in South Pacific Co. v. Arizona, the Supreme Court concluded an Arizonan law prohibiting trains from crossing the state that contained more than 70 freight cars impermissibly interferred with interstate commerce. Southern Pacific argued that the law required them to choose between disassembling at the Arizona border or avoiding Arizona altogether. Arizona argued the law was a safety measure designed to minimize the risk of certain accidents. The Court struck down the law by applying a balancing test between the state’s safety interest and the very substantial burden the law imposed on interstate commerce. The Court followed this same test to strike down an Illinois law requiring trucks to have contoured rear mud flaps rather than the straight ones mandated by most states; and a Wisconsin law that limited truck length.

Here, Walmart is required to specially manufacture its toys in a manner that may not be any more effective than the federal standard. The net effect of the law is to restrict the flow of commerce into NY state.

Posted by: Shaye at April 28, 2003 05:49 PM