While police departments in Oakland and San Francisco have seen success by offering cash in exchange for firearms, one Bay Area school administrator found a new opportunity to reduce gun deaths. This Saturday, Strobridge Elementary School in Hayward, California offered a free book and a chance to win a bicycle to any students who traded in their toy guns during a special buyback program.
"Playing with toys guns, saying 'I'm going to shoot you,' desensitizes them," Hill told the Hayward Daily Review. "So as they get older, it's easier for them to use a real gun." Hill says the idea comes from a school photographer who shoots the kids' photos, but also cited a recent story from Kentucky in which a 5-year-old boy shot and killed his 2-year-old sister with a .22 caliber pink rifle designed for children. In addition to the free books, local police officers and firefighters were on hand Saturday to teach the kids about gun and fire safety.
Naturally, gun rights advocates are bristling at the idea of taking away a child's right to play Cowboys and Indians. "Having a group of children playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians is a normal part of growing up," Yih-Chau Chang, spokesman for the gun rights group Responsible Citizens of California, told the Daily Review. "While the intentions are obviously good on the part of the school administration, this doesn't really educate children about guns or gun safety," Chang said, before parroting a common defense: "Guns are used in crimes, but they are more often used in defensive ways which prevent violent crime from occurring in the first place."
Although toy manufacturers are now required to paint toy weapons bright colors in order to differentiate them from the real thing, Hill says some of them remain easily mistaken for an actual firearm. "I could easily see one of our sixth-graders wanting to fake out someone at a 7-Eleven," Hill said. "They would think it's funny, but it could turn into tragedy."
In February of this year a 3-year-old boy was shot and killed in South Carolina when he and his 7-year-old sister mistook a pink painted handgun for a toy weapon, so in at least two cases this year the brightly-painted toy gun scheme has actually backfired.