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New York's latest crime-buster: muzzling toy guns

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Her voice is impish and feminine, but her gun is menacing. "Give me your money," she says through a ski mask to a bank teller in New Jersey. The teller hands over $3,050, and the robber and another female speed off in a getaway car.

But this wasn't exactly a Thelma & Louise duo. These robbers were 14-year-old twin girls who held up a bank with a toy air-pellet gun this fall.

Their crime added fuel to a toy-gun scare that's sweeping the country: Baltimore just passed a law that makes it a misdemeanor to sell a BB gun to a minor; Chicago has introduced a bill to ban toy-pellet guns; Wal-Mart recently raised its age restriction for air-powered paint guns to 18; and Carrollton, Texas, has banned the public use of replica guns.

And in New York, the site of many toy-gun fatalities, City Council members have introduced a bill to ban the sale of all toy guns - a ban that has not yet passed anywhere in the US. If the bill is approved, officials think it could help blaze the trail for the state, as well as cities nationwide.

"We recognize that you can't pull all guns off the streets: If people have a criminal mind, they'll make a gun out of a stick," says Bill Wren, deputy chief of staff for Brooklyn Councilman Al Vann, who coauthored the bill. "But the bill is about how [a toy gun] makes people feel. If I feel threatened, I'm threatened."

According to the most recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 1990, police departments nationwide reported 31,650 imitation guns seized between January 1985 and September 1989 during crime-related incidents. In New York City alone, more than 1,400 toy guns were used in crimes in 1987, 80 percent more than four years earlier.


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