LJN Toys Catalog, 1987

Exhibit / August 9, 2017

Object Name: LJN Toys catalog
Maker and Year: LJN Toys, 1987
Object Type: Catalog
Image Source: 2 Warps to Neptune
Description: (K.E. Roberts)

Toy guns have existed in the United States for nearly 150 years, becoming a niche market in the ’30s and ’40s following the popularity of Hollywood gangster pictures and The Lone Ranger serial. After the U.S. entered World War II, the market became an industry, and sophisticated new designs proliferated until the late 1960’s, when sales of military toys of all kinds—including Hasbro’s G.I. Joe action figures—plummeted because of the backlash against the Vietnam War. The lull would continue until tough-talking Ronald Reagan, himself a star in several gun-slinging Westerns during his acting career, became the 40th President of the United States in 1981.

Toy guns and military-themed toys (G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero debuted in 1982) saw a massive resurgence, and freedom-fighting “action heroes” like John Rambo, John McClane, and Mack Bolan ruled the decade. LJN was one of many toy companies to capitalize on the hawkish national zeitgeist, its Entertech line of “motorized waterguns” launching in 1985. (LJN was coming off a successful run of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons action figures.) The catalog mimics a real gun catalog (“The M-16 is the standard weapon seen everywhere by everyone…”), and the pause between the last two words of the TV commercial‘s cadence-like slogan—“The look! The feel! The sound, so real! Entertech!”—is filled with the sound of machine-gun fire.

The problem for LJN and others was that police officers across America were accidentally killing people, many of them children, wielding realistic-looking toy weapons. On March 3, 1983, a 5-year-old boy holding a plastic T.J.Hooker revolver was shot and killed by the Los Angeles Police Department. On July 7, 1985, a mentally ill 28-year-old Miami mother was shot and killed when she pointed a .38 revolver replica at police. In early 1987, when toy guns made $106 million, a 19-year-old holding a Laser Tag gun was shot and killed by police in California.

Shortly after the release of Entertech’s 1987 line, LJN rebranded its “realistically styled” weapons as fluorescent “blasters,” and in 1989, a federal law was passed requiring orange tips to be affixed to the muzzles of toy guns. BB guns and pellet guns were exempted from the measure, however, due to pressure from the NRA that continues to this day. In 2015-2016, 86 people were killed by police because they were holding or pointing a realistic-looking toy gun. 69 of those toy weapons were BB or pellet guns.

5 thoughts on “LJN Toys Catalog, 1987

  1. Yikes! Definitely too realistic! Unfortunately there’s just too many mixed messages for people with toy guns that look so real. Kids want to be cool, adults need a safe way to protect themselves but with the end result is accidental death. We had a week of kids driving around our neighborhood and shooting people with a BB gun. They caused some definite damage for sure!

    • I was surprised at how realistic those look as well. None of the boys I was friends with in elementary school were into guns or military toys like GI Joe, so the closest I ever saw was the original Megatron that an older cousin had.

      Your neighborhood was lucky if the kids were just shooting objects & people and didn’t cause massive injury — when I was about 10, my cat came home with multiple BBs lodged between his shoulderblades & forelegs. Luckily they didn’t hit anything vital and my family could afford the surgery to treat him.

  2. My Uncle Jorge only had daughters (much to his chagrin), so he would take me to basketball games and Charles Bronson movies whenever possible to get his testosterone fix. Every Christmas and birthday, these super realistic toy guns were his go to present for me. The entertech guns were extremely realistic, but the Edison Giacattoli toys from italy were even scarier… they had simulated walnut grips and heavy lead weights hidden inside the barrel to give them heft. I used to have epic gunfights with my friends at the park without incident… amazing to realize how much things have changed.

    I also knew some small time drug dealers back in the zeroes who took real guns and spraypainted them dayglo orange and green as a joke, carried them around in glove boxes and backpacks. I am glad to report that nothing sinister ever came of that.

  3. I had one of these, and it wasn’t much fun as a water gun. It took batteries, and made a lot of noise. The clips were fun, but you couldnt just slam them in like in the movies…you had to slide a plastic hose into them. So….not much fun.

  4. My brother and I had lots of toy guns, including the AK centerfire in the first pic. We’d run around the yard, the woods behind our house, and the neighborhood “shooting” each other. We even ran down the middle of the street once with our toy shotguns a la ‘The Untouchables” .

    Only once did we ever get chastised, rightfully so, by someone who we pointed these super realistic toys at to be more careful. The toys really did look real. I can remember the die cast cap guns having some real weight to them and looking exactly like the hand guns the police and soldiers carried.

    I’m sure that my parents had heard about kids accidentally being shot but they let us grow out of playing with toy guns naturally. It’s amazing to think about what it would be like if kids today had such realistic toys like we did. They certainly would not be able to play Untouchables running around the neighborhood blasting imaginary mobsters.

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