June 6, 2006 -- Toy guns look more and more like real guns, and real guns look more and more like toy guns -- and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg sees in this a real threat to police officers and the public.
Back in 1999, the New York City Council passed a law requiring that toy guns be painted fluorescent to make them easily identifiable as toys. But now that real guns are colored with the same fluorescent paint, they look like toys.
As part of a larger piece of gun legislation, Bloomberg wants to ban the selling of gun coloration or paint kits to anyone in New York City's five boroughs.
Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn say these paint kits make real guns look like toys, putting police officers and children in danger. Mayor Bloomberg held up a toy gun and a real gun that had been colored using a paint kit to demonstrate how indistinguishable the guns would be to a police officer who might be confronting a person with one of the disguised weapons.
Creator of Coloring Kits
But Steve Lauer said Bloomberg's demonstration was a foolish one because, said Lauer, the real gun was obvious: "Maybe the real gun is the one with a hole and a barrel?"
Lauer is the owner of Lauer Custom Weaponry in Chippewa Falls, Wis., and the inventor of Duracoat, a popular gun coloration chemical that has taken heat from Bloomberg. Lauer invented Duracoat more than a decade ago. He said he can't keep up with the abundance of phone and Internet orders for the product.
"Our customers are all avid hunters, law enforcement, not gang bangers," said Lauer. "We're not getting orders from New York City. Our sales records only show two orders placed from there, and same thing with Los Angeles. We're only getting order from movie makers."
Regardless of how many gun-coloration kits Lauer is selling in New York, 80 percent of the guns used in committing crimes there have come from out of state.
Lauer said he gets the largest amount of sales from California, Texas, Florida and Arizona. Many people overseas are also heavy purchasers of gun-coloration kits. "Just go to Google and type in Lauer. What comes up? Me, my site. Not Matt Lauer. I have a huge international presence."
Education More Important Than Legislation?
Lauer insists that his product's popularity doesn't pose a safety threat. He said his gun-coloration kits don't contribute to injuries or deaths. He said he doesn't sell to criminals and when it comes to children's safety, the color has nothing to do with it. "Kids are in danger when they aren't educated on gun safety."
Lauer doesn't buy Bloomberg's argument that coloring guns puts kids in harm's way by making them believe the gun is a toy when it's real. "That's never happened before; the scenario is a figment of someone's imagination."
But Bloomberg is convinced that gun-coloration kits put kids in danger; even if a single death happens as a result of someone thinking these guns are toys, that's one death too many, the mayor said.
Already, one child is killed every three hours in the United States by gunfire, according to the Children's Defense Fund and National Center for Health Statistics. The New York City Council reports that more than 300 New Yorkers, many of them children, were killed with illegal guns last year alone.
A Gun as an Accessory?
At least three companies are selling these kits on the Internet: KG Industries in Hayward, Wis., Brownell's Inc. in Montezuma, Iowa, and Lauer's Custom Weaponry.
Bloomberg is the first official to try to enact legislation that would make gun coloration a crime. Under Bloomberg's proposed legislation, if someone uses, buys or sells gun-coloration kits they could face up to a year in jail, a fine of $1,000, or both.
Lauer said Bloomberg's attempt to ban these coloration kits won't do anything to curb crime -- or gun coloring. "Criminals will just go get a spray can."
The National Rifle Association shares Lauer's sentiment. "Banning paint is not going to stop crime. The color of the gun doesn't matter. It's the criminals, not the color of the gun that's the problem. Bloomberg doesn't get that simple concept," said Andrew Arylanandam, director of public affairs for the NRA.
Lauer said he sells the gun paint mainly to law enforcement and the military, who either want to camouflage their guns or make them more visible in low-light situations. Lauer said he "rounds out" his sales by selling to the general public. "Women shooters like to accessorize. They like their gun to match their earrings," he said.
But Bloomberg and the New York City Council said there's nothing harmless about coloring guns. A bright red or yellow gun could trigger a child to play with a gun that's real and loaded, or could prompt a policeman to shoot at a fake.