Despite legislation to prevent the production and sale of exact-replica toy guns, lifelike copies flood into the country and invariably find their way into the hands of criminals who pass them off as the real thing.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Westville police shot and killed a man who allegedly raised a replica toy gun and pointed it at them.
The man was one of three who had allegedly broken into a home in Westville and fled with garden tools and a fridge.
Police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker said officers had received a call via their emergency contact centre of a housebreaking in progress in Westville.
“On arrival at the scene, police were given descriptions of the three suspects as well as the direction in which they fled.
“Officers drove around the area and spotted the men, (who) matched the description given to them,” he said.
“Police stopped the men and it is alleged that one man produced a firearm and pointed it at police officers. Police fired three shots in the direction of the suspects. One of the suspects was fatally wounded,” Naicker added.
Police were unable to confirm the identity of the man who was killed.
The two other men were caught by police after a brief chase that saw them run into the Westville Nature Reserve.
Only after the dust had settled did police establish the gun the man had pointed at them was a replica toy.
Naicker said criminals often used pellet or BB guns that looked identical to 9mm pistols.
“We do find toy guns in possession of criminals. It is not easy for police to identify a toy gun from a distance, as they resemble real firearms and are very detailed. Any person who reasonably believes that a firearm is being pointed at him will be expected to take precautions to protect himself and the lives of others in such a situation,” Naicker said.
He added that the toy had been entered into evidence and would be presented in court when the other two alleged thieves appeared before a magistrate this week.
DA shadow minister of police Dianne Kohler Barnard said the use of replica firearms by thieves was on the rise.
“Despite our firearm legislation, which expressly forbids the sale of exact replica gun toys, they are flooding into South Africa at an alarming rate. I have seen them sold openly at the China Malls, specifically the one in Springfield Park. It seems this legislation is not applied at these malls and, frankly, it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” she said.
Kohler Barnard said these toys were prohibited by law and police officers should take every measure to protect themselves when staring down the barrel of a gun.
“That’s why they are forbidden. If a criminal aims such a firearm at a citizen, or a police member, there is no question that they must be prevented from shooting.
“If this means shooting the criminal, then this must happen. If they were just ‘playing’ they are very likely to be shot,” she said.
She said legislation to prevent the sale and import of toys was not being enforced and that police were ultimately to blame.
“Unless the SAPS start taking this (the legislation) seriously, people will die because of these pieces of plastic. Indeed, people already are,” Kohler Barnard said.
Gun Free South Africa chairman Alan Storey said they were committed to reducing and preventing gun violence.
“It is our hope that the issue of replica toy guns will highlight this deadly, serious issue rather than detract from it. If we are serious about dealing with the culture of violence in our land, every age group should be taught at every opportunity that guns are life- threatening,” he said. “It is outrageous for anyone to be selling toy replicas of real guns in a country that has such a high incidence of gun violence, especially if there is the slightest chance that they could be used in a crime,” Storey added.
He called on retailers to discontinue “irresponsible behaviour” and applauded those who had pulled toy gun replicas from their shelves.
The Sunday Tribune has established that Reggies and Toy’s R Us no longer sell handgun replicas. These toys are available at flea markets and smaller retailers across the city. - Sunday Tribune