HAYWARD -- An elementary school will hold a toy gun exchange Saturday, offering students a book and a chance to win a bicycle if they turn in their play weapons.
Strobridge ¿Elementary Principal Charles Hill maintains that children who play with toy guns may not take real guns seriously.
"Playing with toys guns, saying 'I'm going to shoot you,' desensitizes them, so as they get older, it's easier for them to use a real gun," Hill said.
At Saturday's event, called Strobridge Elementary Safety Day, a Hayward police officer will demonstrate bicycle and gun safety, and the Alameda County Fire Department is sending a rig and crew to talk about fire safety.
Fingerprinting and photographing of children will be offered, with the information put on CDs for parents to ¿use, if needed, in a missing child case. All youngsters attending will be given a ticket to exchange for a book, Hill said.
Every child who brings a toy gun will get a raffle ticket to win one of four bicycles, Hill said.
Hill said he got the idea for the toy gun exchange from a photographer, Horace Gibson, who takes students' school pictures and who expressed concern about the spate of shootings of young people by police in Oakland.
Hill said police are rightfully fearful of being shot when they encounter so many armed suspects, and there have been cases nationwide where police mistook a toy gun for a real one.
A gun rights advocate questioned the idea that playing with toy guns desensitizes children to real weapons.
"Having a group of children playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians is a normal part of growing up," said Yih-Chau Chang, spokesman for Responsible Citizens of California, a group whose goal is to educate the public about the facts behind gun rights.
"While the intentions are obviously good on the part of the school administration, this doesn't really educate children about guns or gun safety," he said. "Guns are used in crimes, but they are more often used in defensive ways which prevent violent crime from occurring in the first place."
Chang also questioned whether toys can look like real weapons.
"Toy manufacturers are forced to paint guns in bright colors, usually orange or yellow, that make it virtually impossible for an officer to mistake it for a real gun," Chang said.
Hill, though, noted a recent case where a little boy in Kentucky used a rifle that was painted pink and accidentally killed his sister. Some toy weapons that he has seen have only a red tip to indicate they are not actual weapons.
"Some of the guns I've confiscated, if they're stuck down in a waistband, the average person would think it's a real gun," Hill said. "I could easily see one of our sixth-graders wanting to fake out someone at a 7-Eleven by walking in there" with a toy gun. "They would think it's funny, but it could turn into tragedy."
Hill hopes the toy gun exchange idea catches on.
"If we want older kids to not think guns are cool, we need to start early," he said.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473.
When: 9 a.m.-noon Saturday
Where: 21400 Bedford Drive, Hayward