Ruth Bass: Culture shields kids from dangerous toys


RICHMOND >> Sixteen years ago, the powers-that-be realized the Barbie-inspired Sky Dancers were a hazardous toy. Pull the cord, and the Sky Dancer would fly in unpredictable directions, enchanting children who screamed with joy at the plastic figure's antics — and sometimes hitting people, too. Temporary blindness, broken teeth and cuts were among the injuries, and some 9 million Sky Dancers were recalled by the manufacturer in 2000.

Lawn Darts didn't need a board and were played outdoors. We loved them. They were metal and stuck hard when they landed. But sometimes they stuck people, with 7,000 injuries recorded. In 1988, the Consumer product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned Lawn Darts from sale in the United States.

Yo-Yo Water Balls are banned in at least three states. This bumpy, soft ball was attached to a stretchy cord. Fling it out, hang on, and it came back. But the toy investigators said the cord could wrap around a child's neck. Besides, it was made of flammable diesel hydrocarbons.

Cabbage Patch dolls were such a rage that parents once stood in line for them the way people now queue up for the latest phone from Apple. But one of the funky-looking little ladies was so greedy that she had to be banned. She had a mechanical jaw that chonked up miniature plastic foods. But she pigged out, trying to gobble children's fingers and hair and refusing to let go. So she was let go.

Even Sponge Bob has not been above reproach. In 2007, the CPSC banned the odd little character's Address Book, which had excessive levels of lead in its spiral binding. The health and scientific worlds now know that lead can cause brain damage in children.

Many of these toys have been banished to the Banned Toy Museum, established in 2010 as part of the Classic Toy Museum in Burlingame, Calif. The museum, which can be found on the Internet, is aware that many of the toys deemed dangerous can still be found at flea markets, tag sales and in attics where old toy chests sleep.

It seems as if the CPSC or a private group annually come up with yet another toy that will be a hazard to a child's health. And off it goes into oblivion, no longer manufactured. We accept all these judgments without too much fuss. But it's not quite the same when the issue is far greater than a Cabbage Patch doll grabbing a child's hair. When it comes to school children or gays or moviegoers or prayer groups, the powers-that-be refuse to think about protection. And so we have — and may still have on the Fourth of July and Labor Day and Thanksgiving — free access to assault weapons.

A ban actually passed in 1994, but Congress let it expire 10 years later. It was supported by President George W. Bush and former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and a Gallup poll in 1993 indicated that 77 percent of Americans were behind it, too.

It's the type of weapon that has mowed down hundreds of people since then and put places like Aurora, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Charleston and San Bernadino on a gruesome map. Through it all, 43 states are right there with Congress — allowing weapons that kill dozens in seconds. Seven states have bans, with California, New Jersey and Connecticut leading the way before the first federal ban was passed. In 2004, prior to expiration of the U.S. ban, Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii and Maryland joined those three states.

Perhaps a senator or representative exists here and there who thinks it's nice for Americans to have a weapon of mass destruction in the closet. It's far more likely that senators and representatives who are unable to flip-flop and do the right thing on this issue are cow-towing to the National Rifle Association and the massive dollars that will help them keep their jobs.

But at least their kids and grandkids won't be strangled by a Yo-Yo Ball.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor of The Eagle. Her web site is


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