EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange was represented at the New Jersey Statehouse on Thursday, Sept. 22, when East Orange City Council President Ted Green and state Assemblyman Jamel Holley traveled to Trenton to discuss a bill pending before the Assembly’s Law and Public Safety Committee to ban the sale of realistic-looking toy guns to underage children throughout New Jersey.
Bill No. A-1119 was co-sponsored by Holley and Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, who represent the 20th and 34th Legislative Districts, respectively. The bill advanced through the Law and Public Safety Committee on Sept. 22, by a vote of 5-2 and will be heard on the New Jersey Senate floor in the coming weeks.
Such toys are already banned by Ordinance No. 41-2015 in East Orange. Green, who is also the East Orange Council president, sponsored the ordinance in East Orange in an effort, he says, to avoid what happened to Tamir Rice, 12, and Tyree King, 13, both shot and killed in separate incidents in Ohio by police who allegedly mistook their realistic-looking toy guns for the real thing.
“These certain toy guns can be mistaken for real firearms, which can lead to a child being shot and killed,” said Oliver on Thursday, Sept. 22. “These kinds of toy and imitation firearms were used in several bank robberies in Union County several months ago, making it not only a danger to children, but to adults and especially law enforcement, who may have just seconds to distinguish the threat of a real gun or a toy.”
Holley, whose district includes Elizabeth, Hillside, Roselle and Union, agreed with Oliver and Green that pending statewide legislation to ban the sale of realistic-looking toy guns to underage children is a good idea, which is why he is teaming up with Oliver to sponsor the Assembly version of the East Orange law.
“I’m a co-sponsor,” said Holly on Tuesday, Sept. 20. “And I’m going to support that legislation. And I will be ushering it through the legislative process.”
Holley admitted, however, turning the bill into law would be a complicated process.
“They were just in committee,” said Holley on Monday, Sept. 26. “It hasn’t reached the full Assembly yet. They were working with the Senate and some Assembly committees but, once it reaches the full body, I will definitely be supporting it.”
Green and Holly both said Mayor Tony Vauss let them leave work early Thursday, Sept. 22, so they could go to Trenton to speak in support of pending legislation that will affect where they live and work, if it gets passed into law.
Green and his East Orange City Council colleagues passed Ordinance No. 41-2015 on second reading at the regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 10, 2015, by a vote of 8-0. Green’s 3rd Ward council partner, Councilwoman Quilla Talmadge, said the ordinance was designed to be a proactive approach to a problem in East Orange.
“It’s an ordinance asking the store owners to cooperate with us and not sell those toy guns that look like real guns,” Talmadge said Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. “If they’re selling a water gun or something, that’s different. But toy guns that look like real guns, they will be prohibited from selling. Cops see those guns and think they’re real. They don’t know what’s real or not real. We want to prevent kids or policemen from getting hurt or killed, because these toy guns look real.”
According to Green, the ordinance also asks toy gun makers to stop designing toy guns to look real. Oliver and Holly’s pending legislation in the state Assembly would require any toy or imitation gun to be bright in color, not black, according to Bill No. A-1119.
According to Oliver, Green was an asset in Trenton, as he made these design issues clear.
“I think the councilman did an excellent job, because he brought with him an array of toy guns,” Oliver said Tuesday, Sept. 27. “A newspaper from Bergen County did a good job, too, because they took pictures of the toy guns next to the real guns and you couldn’t tell the difference. One of my colleagues abstained from the vote that day. There were only two no votes and they are Republicans that are NRA affiliated. It was a good job. I felt that he did a good job.”
It also requires the toy to be equipped with a barrel at least 1 inch in diameter that is closed at a distance of at least one-half inch from the front end of the barrel, with the same material from which the toy gun or imitation firearm is made. If the pending legislation is approved, anyone who violates those design and manufacturing requirements will be subject to a penalty of not more than $500 for the first offense and not more than $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
“We want them to have very brightly colored barrels or tips, so that it will be clear to police and law enforcement that it’s a toy gun and not the real thing,” said Green. “We’re working hard on both fronts, through our police department and through our legislation, to protect our kids and make our community safer. Bad things can happen. At that moment, when the police officer arrives on the scene and sees someone with a realistic-looking toy gun, he or she has to make a judgment call. That’s where experience comes in. A certain movement of that suspect can cause a policeman to react with deadly force. That’s why we want to get these realistic-looking guns out of our kids’ hands.”
According to Green on Thursday, Aug. 27, “There were several incidents last year here in the city of East Orange and in our schools, where kids were bringing toy guns to school. They were primarily getting the guns from local corner stores and, when we investigated and looked at some of the kinds of guns that they sell, some of them really looked like real guns.”
Green said this prompted him to take proactive action to remedy it in East Orange. The fact that other neighboring municipalities in Orange, Irvington and Newark have either passed laws similar to Ordinance 41-2015 or are considering doing so is a good thing, he said.
“I’m very proud that, as a councilman and a black man in a leadership role in my city government and the community, we are taking proactive action. As we move forward, hopefully, they pass it in Trenton and it will be a milestone for the city of East Orange that we led the charge to get these realistic-looking guns out of our kids hands, so that it won’t be mistaken for a real gun and get another one of our kids killed.”