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Police Raid Nets Illegal Toy Guns

December 21, 1994

NEW YORK (AP) _ The police found the cache of guns in the back of the store, past the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and above a set of purple plastic teacups.

They were toys, but they didn’t look like it.

Six bore a striking resemblance to black semiautomatic pistols. Two more looked like small revolvers. All violated a city ordinance banning toy guns that look real, police said.

Although the law has been on the books since 1955, authorities launched a holiday crackdown, prompted in part by recent cases of police officers shooting children holding toy guns.

″Look at this,″ said Officer Frank Pangallo, gripping one of the faux firearms as two other officers wrote a summons. ″You put this to someone’s head, how are they going to know?″

In one raid Tuesday, officers cited the owner of J&S Toys, Jong Sohn, for stocking the $4.99 Panther guns. He could get a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.

The toy guns not only put innocent children at risk, officials say, but are also a cheap alternative for criminals who can’t get real ones.

″We have had more than 400 incidents of imitation guns in the last year being used in the commission of a serious felony,″ said Chief of Patrol Louis Anemone.

And with real guns in the hands of more children these days, police are afraid they’ll be more likely to shoot a youngster by mistake.

That very thing happened inside a dimly lit housing project on Sept. 27 when an officer killed a 13-year-old playing with a toy rifle. Hours later, a 16-year-old was chased and wounded by an officer who thought the gun in the teen-ager’s belt was real.

City law prohibits selling toy guns in black, blue, silver or aluminum colors and requires that the barrels be sealed. But a city Department of Consumer Affairs survey of 335 stores last month found 68 in violation. Police warned the stores last week they would crack down. On Tuesday, they arrived with citations.

Visits to several Chinatown variety stores and a midtown Manhattan Toys ″R″ Us turned up nothing. But at J&S in the East Village, two toy guns were seized as evidence and the owner was ordered to return others to the manufacturer.

″Mothers and fathers are the ones buying them for their kids,″ sales clerk John Vega said. ″It’s an innocent thing.″

Pangallo disagreed.

″Ten years ago, you would have only pure thoughts about a kid with a gun. You’d just assume it was a toy,″ he said. ″Times have changed.″