Once upon a time, toy pistols held a place of honor in children's games--essential equipment for playing cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers.
But now, stores selling fake guns, combat video games and other "war toys" may be forced to post warnings that such playthings increase "anger and violence" in children.
Opponents condemn as vague and misguided a bill to require the warnings, which has been passed by the state House.
The bill would require stores to place signs on shelves stating:
"WARNING. THINK BEFORE YOU BUY. THIS IS A WAR TOY. PLAYING WITH IT INCREASES ANGER AND VIOLENCE IN CHILDREN. IS THIS WHAT YOU REALLY WANT FOR YOUR CHILD?"
Retailers caught without the sign would be fined $100.
Its sponsor, Rep. Robert Bunda, said he was concerned that children who play with toy weapons, war-themed computer games and similar toys become more aggressive. The bill supports nonviolence and focuses attention on the influences children are exposed to, he said.
"We got into a philosophical debate about why we are the kind of people we are in terms of violence. We had no answers," Bunda said. "I don't know if the bill will do anything. It just may be our nature. I don't know if we can create enough laws to change that."
The bill has not been taken up by the Senate.
Opponents say it is too vague in defining a "war toy" and doesn't address the real causes of violence.
"This bill does not distinguish between the kind of aggression we're talking about, street crime aggression, and the kind of violence sometimes necessary in the military," said Rep. David Stegmaier.
Toy makers deny any correlation between war toys and violent behavior.
"There is no proof playing with these toys increases anger or violence," said Jody Levin, communications director of the New York-based Toy Manufacturers of America. "Why aren't they getting real guns off the street?"
She also criticized backers of the warning labels for usurping the role of parents.
Some manufacturers predicted the warning labels could spur sales in the same way they have for explicit records and books. Gerry Blair, vice president at Microprose, a Maryland-based maker of computer war simulation games, said his company has been sued in Germany over the packaging of some of their products, and has won those trials.
"It will make a few people think, but I don't think it will hurt sales," said Vicky Ulsh, manager of the Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby Shop in Honolulu. "People will buy anything if they want it. Just because they put warning labels on toys, I don't think that will reduce violence."
Dawn Bruening of Waianae said she would think twice about buying toys that carried the warning, but said she lets her 4-year-old son play with toy guns and games depicting violence.
"His favorite movies are Terminator 1 and 2, and he loves the Streetfighter video game," Bruening said. "Sometimes he imitates what he sees and goes around shooting."