On Thursday afternoon, around 80 to 100 children handed over their imitation firearms and water pistols to members of law enforcement for something fluffier, colorful, or sports-oriented with the kickoff of the Toy Gun Exchange.
“Long Island youth can exchange guns for non-violent toys. This year we have several hundred toys to be exchanged and more than in years’ past. It keeps growing every year,” LaMont Johnson, a trustee of Hempstead Village and the Hempstead Board of Education, told Fox News ahead of the event.
Johnson was joined by Mayor Don Ryan and the program’s co-chair, Sean Acosta Jr., to kick off the annual event, pegging its importance on the “recent shooting tragedies that have occurred nationwide.” Acosta, a former NYPD officer, launched the program in 2016, aiming to protect youth from gun-related violence, noting that many of the toys – from water pistols to plastic replicas – posed real threats. He noted that police officers in the heat of the moment may not be able to distinguish between the real and the fake.
“The message ‘guns are not toys’ is critical to teach every child. Whether it means staying away from violence and crime, or teaching to never play with a firearm, it’s initiatives like these that save lives and help children learn a lifesaving message,” he said.
According to the event’s news release, the Long Island Toy Gun Exchange Program was “the first of its kind in the region... the new toys are donated by Mr. Acosta Jr. to stop gun violence - before it starts.”
Organizers urged children to visit the village offices and trade their toy weapons for sporting equipment or educational toys. Kids who visited the offices without gun-like toys were still issued items such as water pistols and then invited to “turn them in” to be part of the movement.
Nonetheless, some gun-rights advocates said they were skeptical.
“This is being done in good spirit, but I don't think it is a good strategy. I am a physician, and I practice evidence-based medicine. We know early exposure to firearms and firearms safety together reduces gun accidents in children. Keeping guns secured and unloaded also protects children,” contended Dr. Matthew Tipton, a Mississippi-based father of three and Alcorn County SWAT team member. “Making guns ‘forbidden’ adds to the allure for kids. My children are all are being taught to respect weapons.”
Dennis Santiago, a global-risk analyst and California-based firearms instructor, argued, “imposing toy exchanges is a form of child cruelty.”
“It triggers unnecessary stigma for children who would otherwise be unaffected by their elder’s phobias. It’s a form of passing on fear and prejudice from one generation to the next,” he said. “It’s a particularly intrusive form of civil rights violation when done by authority figures like the police or school officials because it disrespects the family values of the child whose parents did, in fact, provide the child with the toy in the first place.”
And, from the lens of Dianna Muller, a competitive shooter and former Tulsa, Okla., police officer, the toy gun exchange program was “totally inappropriate and irresponsible.”
“The anti-gun crowd has irresponsibly focused the conversation on the firearm, a tool, that neither wishes to do harm or good. Removing the opportunity to have a conversation and teach firearms safety makes no one safer,” she added. “They are and have been indoctrinating our children that firearms are ‘bad,’ disguising it under the cloak of safety as opposed to disarmament. Moreover, access to toy guns is nothing new. As opposed to the recent trend in shootings happening in gun-free zones, toy guns are nothing new. You used to be able to buy a real gun from the Sears catalog and have it shipped to your home. School shootings were not a problem during that time, but they are now, so it makes no sense to me to blame firearms on shootings.”