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CEPEDA: A very lethal plaything -- real guns that look like toys

Esther J. Cepeda

Esther J. Cepeda

CHICAGO -- Two summers ago, my husband and I took our sons to a shooting range for multiple days of firearms training with a certified instructor. Our logic was simple: In our low-income community with lots of gang activity, it was laughable to imagine that our boys wouldn't someday find themselves in a situation where a pal had brought a gun to school or asked them to come see his parents' gun.

Did we want them to clumsily handle a deadly weapon -- seduced by the excitement of seeing a real, live gun for the first time -- or did we want them, as experienced shooters, to be able to step away from the situation with full knowledge of the danger involved? We opted for the latter and I sleep better for it.

That said, I can easily imagine either of my boys, now 11 and 14, innocently picking up a pint-size, colorful rifle and squeezing the trigger under the assumption that such an item couldn't possibly be anything other than a toy.

In fact, as we discussed the terrible incident in which a 5-year-old boy shot his 2-year-old sister in the chest with a .22-caliber firearm marketed under the name "My First Rifle," it came out that in teacher-led discussions at school about the incident, my sons' peers still could not understand that the gun in question was not actually a toy.

During our firearms training, the most important thing our instructor drilled into us was our whole reason for being there: to ensure that our kids learned that "guns are not toys."

How, exactly, do you teach that to a 5-year-old wielding a small, brightly colored gun that looks exactly like a toy? It seems practically impossible.

In the case of the Kentucky 5-year-old, it would be very easy to be satisfied with thinking, as the local coroner told a reporter, that this incident was "just one of those crazy accidents." But that's just plain lazy.

You could blame the parents -- according to news reports, the weapon was left loaded and sitting in a corner of their home. When the parents accepted this birthday present on behalf of their son, they appeared to not understand the respect it deserved.

Proper firearms training instills safety habits such as never keeping loaded weapons out in plain view, where the untrained might stumble upon them and harm themselves or others.

But in a country where even requiring a background check for the purchase of firearms sends some people into convulsions, it's ridiculous to consider a day when certified training would be required for the purchase or ownership of guns. It's easier to just call accidental firearm deaths -- 851 in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- "crazy accidents."

These "accidents" are preventable.

How in the world can it be that pellet-shooting replica guns -- generally known as Airsoft or BB guns -- are governed by federal regulations stating that they must be sold with clearly visible markings, but firearms merchants are not prohibited from selling real weapons that look like toys?

Do a Google image search. In addition to the rainbow, blue and fire engine red weapons from "My First Rifle," you'll find photos of real, hot pink Glocks, Louis Vuitton-inspired guns and blinged-out rifles. The Baltimore Police Department released a bulletin displaying pictures of real Rugers, AKs, KEL TECs and Colts that have been painted up in bright colors to look like toys.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal this past March, toy store owner and gun enthusiast Rhett Power lamented, "Let me get this straight: Children are not allowed to have toy guns that look like the real thing, but adults are allowed to have the real thing that looks like a toy? That has got to change. This isn't about 'gun control,' it's about something closer to simple decency."

Obviously, criminals are going to customize their guns to evade law enforcement. But in terms of responsibility, is this that far removed from legitimately selling real firearms that look like toys to adults -- or worse, are expressly designed for children's little bodies?

Parents are within their rights to teach their children how to shoot and care for guns responsibly at any age they feel is appropriate. But not with toy-like weapons that violate the visual and tactile safety tenet that real guns are not playthings. Get these "first" weapons off the shelves.

Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist. Email her at estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

Comments

kevin 1 year, 2 months ago

From what I understand, it is a fact that Illinois is the only stat that does not allow concealed weapons. I do not think this write is qualified to write any article about gun control. She should be trying to tell us how come IL. lead the nation in gun murders. Ester, can you also explain why our government still allows cigarettes to be sold in this country after the same government proved they are killing us? I would rather you write something about this crime that our very own government is allowing to go on and on.

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Why_not 1 year, 2 months ago

I didn't see anything in the article about gun control as you stated. I do think that she raised good issues that all parents should consider if having firearms around young children.

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notblind 1 year, 2 months ago

Ms. Cepeda wrote " Get these "first weapons" off the shelves." Actually the whole article is crying out for gun control, just in a less obvious fashion.

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news2me 1 year, 2 months ago

notblind, good catch on Cepeda's creative journalism, but that breed of dog don't hunt. That poster never reads anything before commenting. It is well documented that he/she is far too busy sniffing up where kevin's sun don't shine to worry about facts and content.

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Haughton 1 year, 2 months ago

In our low-income community with lots of gang activity, it was laughable to imagine that our boys wouldn't someday find themselves in a situation where a pal had brought a gun to school or asked them to come see his parents' gun.

Ms. Cepeda, responsible and highly educated parents would also not subject their children to living in a low-income, gang infested hood. Are saying that no one pays you a decent wage for your pro-Illegal Alien articles? The only thing I see that you have done right is teach your kids about gun safety, but forcing them to live in the ghetto when they don't have to is not good parenting at all.

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notblind 1 year, 2 months ago

Move to a middle class neighborhood and there would most likely be large numbers of the evil white people. Better to live among the high crime element and not have her kids exposed to the root of America's problems, the white middle class.

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notblind 1 year, 2 months ago

She also fails to mention that most likely her boys had a great time and are constantly begging to go shooting some more. She also needs to watch out because with just a little insight her boys will see the reality of the gun control 'debate'. It's not about inanimate objects, it's about control.

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Say_that_again 1 year, 2 months ago

With accidental shootings killing young children every day, we have a gun problem. To claim that guns do not kill people when a 2 year old kills his sister or mother is plain stupid. That child did not make a conscience decision to murder.

What do you call someone that advocates the arming of citizens in preparation to overturn the government? If this is in France, we call them terrorists. If this happens in America, we call them the NRA supporters of the second amendment. Why do people believe that the second amendment is more important than the rest of the Constitution. You cannot call yourself a patriot and advocate arming yourself for an uprising against your country!

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FordGalaxy 1 year, 2 months ago

The prupose of being armed is not to instigate an uprising against the government, but it is instead to be prepared for one should the government become despotic, tyrannical, or otherwise destructive of our rights. You're not a patriot if you go along blindly with everything the government does. To quote a liberal, "we have a right to debate with any administration."


Apparently to some liberals (not you, say_that_again, but some) you can debate and disagree with Republicans, but you should take the words of liberals as gospel. I know that the flip side of that coin is that some conservatives think that anything a Republican says is tantamount to prophecy from on high. To people who actually think and reason, we know that government can easily become despotic. We saw England become that way in the 1700s, thus leading to our revolution. Our founders wrote in a means for us to do the same, should the need ever arise.


Yes, accidental shootings happen. That's often a result of someone being careless with their firearms. Accidental car crashes happen every day. Should we ban cars? Accidental prescription drug overdoses happen. Should we ban all prescriptions? People shoke on food every day. Do you want to ban food? The problem lies not in regulation, but in education. We need to better educate users to avoid situations like accidental shootings.

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Say_that_again 1 year, 2 months ago

Cars are heavily regulated. You must learn proper use and pass a test to prove you have the necessary knowledge and skill to operate one. Drivers with certain handicaps or illnesses are not allowed to get a license. Since you want to compare guns and cars - lets have the same training requirements and licensing, renewed at regular intervals, in order to have a gun. Further, motor vehicle licenses are limited. To operate a semi requires additional training. We could give a basic gun license limiting to a single shot 22 rifle then require additional training for higher caliber weapons, pistols and guns with larger capacity. Your prescription drugs are also regulated. No amount of regulation is going to stop all gun deaths but consider how many more car accidents we would have if they had no requirements of licensing or traffic laws to regulate how they are used. Your comparison only puts emphasis on the importance of regulation, even more than just the requested background check expansion and stopping large capacity clip sales and assault weapon sales.

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FordGalaxy 1 year, 2 months ago

I agree with you. I believe that there should be massive education when it comes to firearm use. I have no problem with telling people that they have to pass a course to gain the ability to use certain guns. You have to purchase a permit to carry, I have no problem with stating that you have to pass a test as well.


I just don't agree that the gun is to blame. By that logic, was the knife to blame when people are stabbed to death? Is the rope to blame when someone is hanged? I can't see a reasonable means to blame an inanimate object that requires a user. The accidental shooting you allude to is the result of a careless parent leaving a gun where it could be easily found. Even beyond that, it's the fault of a gon-owning parent not properly educating their child. I was using guns as early as age five, but I had responsible parents and grandparents (not to mention uncles, cousins, etc.) who properly supervised the times I was shooting, but then immediately took the gun away after the shot.


As you say, no amount of regulation is going to stop accidents. That doesn't mean we should be free to strip away all regulation, nor does it mean we should continue adding more and more stringent regulations. I know it's shocking for our modern society, but the onus lies with the parent or responsible guardian. Educate your child about guns. If you don't want your child using guns, then don't allow your child access to them. Some of us grew up around guns and turned out fine.


A talented enough shooter could take out six people with a revolver and not require a high-capacity magazine. I really don't get the level of anxiety some people show about high-capacity magazines.

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Say_that_again 1 year, 2 months ago

When a car is found to be in need of a safety feature, such as protection from gas tank explosions, the car manufacturers are held responsible. The technology is available to make guns safer, technology that many guns have, and yet many states, including GA, have passed legislation to prevent consumers from suing gun manufacturers for failure to take these precautions. Our laws make certain restrictions on parents when it comes to decisions about their children. Even a parent is not allowed to buy alcoholic beverages or cigarettes for their children or allow them to drive until 15. You might have an argument about not blaming the gun under some circumstances; however, you should blame the gun and the gun manufacturer when someone can carry a semi automatic weapon with a 100 round clip into a theater and open fire.

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FordGalaxy 1 year, 2 months ago

We should blame the gun manufacturer because someone made a concious choice to carry it into a movie theater? I'm assuming you're referencing Aurora. So you think that the gun manufacturer should be held accountable for that? What if someone decided to drive their Honda Civic through a group of bicyclists? Do you blame Honda for that?


I won't disagree that safety measures should be taken. Again, that goes to education. Many people are not properly trained on how to use, store, and clean firearms. I grew up around them. I learned early on that guns are dangerous, but they also serve a purpose. We used them for hunting. We had them for self-defense, should the need arise. Thankfully, it never did.


I'd be willing to bet that more people dies every year as a result of alcohol, tobacco, and driving than as a result of firearms. The only difference is the media rarely gives the attention to the first three as it does the last one. Look at a place like Chicago. Incredibly restrictive gun laws. Yet, Chicago has terrible gun crime. Compare that with places that have more open gun laws and see the difference. You'll never stop accidents from happening. People will accidentally shoot each other. Likewise, people will accidentally hit each other with their cars, or they'll accidentally drink too much. When a drunk driver hit someone else with their car, do we now blame Budweiser and Jagermeister? When someone makes the conscious decision to smoke three packs a day, knowing the risks, do we still blame Marlboro? Or do we ever begin demanding accountability and responsibility from the person doing these things?

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jack 1 year, 2 months ago

Who would you blame if someone used their bare hands to strangle another to death? The parents who produced them? God?

Sorry, if someone carries a semi automatic weapon with a 100 round clip into a theater and opens fire, I blame that individual.

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Haughton 1 year, 2 months ago

When Gangs are killing young children, we have a Gang problem. Gangs should be labeled as homeland Terrorists here in the US.

http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/Shooting-Baby-Strong-Gang-Overtones-Chicago-197390511.html

A 7 month old boy in metro ATL died while his mother was drag racing a car. I guess we should label cars as Weapons of Destruction and ban them.

http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/one-dead-in-predawn-wreck-on-i-75-in-northwest-atl/nXnFp/

Infants die almost every day from co-sleeping in their parents bed. Do parents make conscience decisions to suffocate their children?

http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/two-milwaukee-infants-die-cosleeping-is-suspected-7s9lfrq-204132221.html

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Mack711 1 year, 2 months ago

In a way Ms. Cepeda is pushing for gun control in her own way. She has the opinion that if it can be stopped at a young age then that will carry on into adult hood. Take Chicago, think that is where she is from, they have no firearm stores and no concelled weapons permits. Yet they have the highest crime rate for weapons usage in the entire country. Why? Because the criminals and gangs are the only ones who have the weapons. As you know a criminal does not care about the laws that you and I do. Armed Gangs are a lot of the problem for the law abiding citizen. A lot of the armed gang members are under the age of 21 so what does that tell you, they do not care about the laws.

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Haughton 1 year, 2 months ago

People are caught everyday driving without a driver's licence even though it is required by law. Prescription drugs are regulated, however that does not stop people from stealing them or using them to operate a vehilcle when the warning label clearly tells them not to.

http://www.gwinnettcountysheriff.com/asp/docket48hr.asp

A drug crazed shoplifter recently went to the Snellville Home Depot to steal cleaning solvents. I guess this lady was just so drugged up she was desperate to clean her house really heavily. She was so hell bent to rush home to clean she manage to steal the patrol car as well.

Shoplifter bites officers, steals patrol car, crashes

Shoplifter bites officers, steals patrol car, crashes by Keith Farner

Summer is coming up and swimmers drown every day so let's shut down every body of water and swimming pool and mandate a government issued swimming and drown proof exam for all US citizens. We could add it to their National ID so it shows they have the right to swim.

Gun owners should do the right thing and educate themselves and their families on guns, and all bets are most of them do that anyway. Accidents happen.

Guns owners would be happy for tougher regulations. training and restrictions. However, in return Liberals must take a Voter Intelligence class every four years and will only be given a voter ID card if mistakes like electing BHO don't ever happen again. The accident in electing BHO, not once but twice, could have easily been avoided if the proper training and licensing were mandated and regulated. The vast majority of Republicans would happy to comply as well.

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