Toy guns on Halloween: Costume fun or a concealed firearm?

No matter what night (or day) it is, the totality of the circumstances ultimately dictates what you will do when you encounter someone with something that looks like a gun


Is that a toy gun? Is it a real gun? How much time might you have to make that life-and-death determination?

As I have written on several occasions, bad guys out there are painting their guns in neon colors to deceive civilians and police officers alike. They’re painting the tips of their barrels orange. They’re turning ‘Supersoakers’ into shotguns.

Unlike police officers, they recognize no rules, and consequently when an officer encounters an individual with what appears to be a weapon, he or she must rely on training and trigger control to preserve a life — or end one.

Halloween Perspectives
Which brings us to tomorrow’s date — October 31 — and Halloween. No matter what night (or day) it is, the totality of the circumstances ultimately dictates what you as an officer will do when you encounter what may be a harmless child with a toy, or what may be a dangerous suspect bent on taking the life of a cop.

Is the subject complying with your commands?
Is the subject a child with a parent (or other kids)?
Is the scene full of criminal activity or candy corns?

Tomorrow night there will be people of all ages dressed up — some in costumes that have replica (or “toy”) weapons — so we asked our followers on Facebook about their take on toy guns as part of a Halloween costume.

Here is a small sampling of their answers:

Rosario Hinojosa: No! Seeing as we have to dispatch as “subject with a gun,” it gets pretty nerve wracking! Same for big knives!

Byron Paisley: It’s OK. I always had toy guns as a kid.

Linda Crowder Manous: Not any more. It used to be OK but we’re past that time in our lives. Even if it were a weird color, there are now real weapons with weird colors. It’s just too dangerous.

Bob Vollmer: Cut it out everyone. It’s a COSTUME. Nothing more. He's not going to grow up killing people as a result. We used to play cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians all the time. We turned out just fine. As long as the parents teach the child how to use guns responsibly, no problem.

Ryan Mabry: Little kids, OK. Adults on the other hand, I would have to say no.

Two Talking Heads
We got more than 100 replies to that Facebook question, and it seemed to be really evenly split between “yay” and “nay” votes.

Those same opposing views are captured in two YouTube videos produced — in a clever public relations campaign — by CostumeSuperCenter.com, a company that makes and sells Halloween costumes.

Christine Hoskins-Tardibone, Ph.D., N.C.C — School Counselor, Auburn High School and Adjunct Professor, Syracuse University

Kathryn Snyder, ATR-BC, LPC — Registered Art Therapist, Licensed Professional Counselor and Director, Parent to Child

Like the opposing sides in the debate on real, actual guns, I suspect that these two women will never see eye-to-eye on this issue. On the one hand, some believe that toy guns “contribute to a culture of violence.” On the other hand, some believe there is nothing wrong with children engaging in an imaginative “game of cops and robbers.”

What About Your House?
Do you have kids? Do they have toy guns? I have a son, and he has his own Blue Gun with which (and with me) he practices clearing my house.

He knows the rules. He knows it’s not a “toy” but a teaching tool (which never leaves the house).

Admittedly, Lyndon Baines Johnson occupied the White House when I was born, but even back when the Red Ryder BB gun was nearly ubiquitous, my toy guns were painstakingly hand-made by yours truly.

It would take days for me to transform a solid hunk of wood with nothing but my sweat, my saw, and a lot of sandpaper.

I was 10 years old when I got a replica musket during visit to Disneyworld, and I think I owned it a total of ten days. When we boarded the airplane home from vacation, Eastern Airlines decided they wanted to keep my prized possession.

Soon thereafter, though, I was taught firearms safety and was given the opportunity to shoot a fully-operational weapon.

Now I’m a Lifetime Member of the NRA.

I offer no advice here on the “right” thing to do — that’s for each individual to decide for themselves and their families — but I do think this question merits contemplation.

Add your voice to the discussion in the comments area below, and stay safe this Halloween.

...Oh yeah, and if ever there’s a night to slow down behind the wheel, this is the one. 

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 800 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Read more articles by PoliceOne Editor in Chief Doug Wyllie by clicking here.

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