New Jersey’s senior U.S. senator wants to crack down on toy guns and BB guns.

During a news conference in East Orange, Sen. Bob Menendez said many toy, imitation, air and BB guns are designed to look exactly like real firearms — and he said the consequences can be tragic.

He noted according to the Washington Post’s police shooting database, 153 people have died at the hands of police while holding lookalike guns since 2015.

“Again and again we hear of incidents involving lookalike(s) that end with a police officer discharging deadly force," Menendez said. "It’s happened here in New Jersey and across America.”

He said the lookalike guns pose "an incredible challenge to law enforcement when responding to life-and-death situations.”

Menendez said police officers sometimes must make split-second decisions about potentially dangerous and deadly situations, putting themselves and others at additional risk if they’re not sure whether a gun is real or fake.

He noted just this past March, a Trenton man, Jason Williams, was shot and killed by police after threatening suicide with a realistic-looking BB gun.

He also said there have also been instances where children have accidently killed playmates using pellet, air and BB guns.

Menendez is urging federal officials to take action so everyone is able to clearly see difference between real and fake firearms.

“We’re writing the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Commerce to request that they immediately begin developing stricter regulations for air guns, BB guns, imitation and toy guns," Menendez said.

He said the guns should have clear markings that signal to police, parents and children that they're not real.

“Updating these regulations is about common sense," he said. "It’s about ensuring that everyone can tell the difference between what’s a toy and what’s deadly.”

He said some toy guns are required to have an orange tip, but “we all know these tips are easily removed or painted over.”

Menendez also said gun manufacturers don’t want to enact these kinds of changes because “they want to create a new generation of customers to line the pockets of the NRA.”

"There is no training that any of us in law enforcement know of where a police officer can quickly learn how to distinguish between a real gun and a fake gun," Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.

He said that presents a danger to officers, the person with the gun and anyone nearby.

East Orange banned the sale of realistic-looking toy guns in the city in response to the 2014 fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. Police had responded to reports of someone pointing a gun at people, but it turned out Rice had an Airsoft gun in his possession.

New Jersey state law prohibits children from possessing BB and air guns, which are regulated like firearms.

Menendez has sent a letter to acting Consumer Product Safety Commission Chair Ann Marie Buerkle and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross calling for new regulations to ensure real, toy and BB guns look different and are easily distinguishable from real firearms.

The letter is cosigned by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn).

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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