The new year will bring new restrictions on the sale of toy guns in Arkansas, but two of the nation’s largest retailers say it’s a ban they’ve already been following.
Starting Friday, a state law takes effect banning the sale of realistic-looking toy guns. Lawmakers earlier this year approved the restriction, which says that stores can only sell toy guns if they include an orange tip at the barrel or are colored differently than real firearms.
The new law exempts imitation guns used for theater productions, war reenactments and sporting events. It also doesn’t apply to paintball, BB or pellet guns, as well as replicas of guns produced before 1898.
The Arkansas restriction is nearly identical to a federal law that’s been in effect since the late 1980s, but its sponsor said the measure was needed to clamp down on sales by smaller retailers around the state.
“There are some stores out there that are still selling them,” said Rep. Fred Allen, D-Little Rock. “This is designed to protect children and officers from violence and it’s designed to prevent imitation firearms from finding their way on school campuses.”
Stores that break the law can face fines of up to $1,000 per violation.
Allen said he had introduced the bill in part because of the fatal shooting of DeAunta Farrow, a 12-year-old boy who was killed by West Memphis police in 2007. The officer who shot Farrow said the boy was holding a gun.
The boy’s name was stripped from the proposed ban, however, after complaints from the family, who dispute police accounts that DeAunta was holding a toy weapon. A civil trial is pending in the case.
Major retailers in the state also say they don’t expect any major changes from the new ban. Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says it already follows similar federal restrictions prohibiting the sale of realistic-looking toy guns.
Toys R Us, which has four stores in the state, said it has not sold realistic-looking toy guns in its stores since 1994.
Starting Friday, stores will also be required to only sell “fire-safe” cigarettes, or cigarettes designed to self-extinguish if left unattended. Retailers will be allowed to sell any remaining stocks of non-fire-safe cigarettes.
Arkansas becomes among the last states to enact such a change. Other states with laws going on the books this week are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Wyoming is the only state that hasn’t passed such a law, according to the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes. Fire-safe cigarette laws will also take effect in Mississippi, Ohio and South Dakota by the first week of 2011.
Rep. Steve Harrelson, who had backed the restriction, said he had wanted the new law to take effect with the new year to coincide with restrictions in neighboring states Missouri and Tennessee.
“We’re just hoping to save lives,” said Harrelson, D-Texarkana. “That’s one of the things I think it will ultimately do.”
A spokesman for Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc., owner of market-leading Philip Morris USA, said the company supported the Arkansas restriction and also hoped for a similar federal guideline. Altria spokesman Bill Phelps said the company usually hears some complaints from smokers when the change first takes effect.
“We will hear from consumers who notice a difference in the product, but that tends to go down to normal levels over time,” Phelps said.
Other laws set to take effect starting Friday:
— International student exchange programs will be required to register with the secretary of state’s office before placing students in Arkansas public or private schools.
— Chiefs of staff and deputy chiefs of staff for constitutional officers or the Legislature will be required to file annual statements of financial interest with the state.
— Health insurance policies will be required to cover prostate cancer screenings and treatment for men at least 40 years old. Another law requires health plans to offer at least $1,400 in coverage for hearing aids sold after Friday.