In the late 1970's, Saturday Night Live ran sketches called "Consumer Probe" or "On The Spot" featuring Dan Aykroyd as the sleazy Irwin Mainway, President of Mainway Toys, Mainway Novelties, or Mainway's Kiddie Funworld, usually being interviewed by consumer reporters played by Candace Bergen or Jane Curtin (as Joan Face).
Aykroyd played Mainway like a con-man, complete with pencil-thin mustache, slicked-back hair, pinky ring, and tacky polyester sport jacket, whose "toys" and "rides" were some of the worst ever marketed to children.
Examples from the Mainway Toys product line included the "Bag O' Glass" for $1.98 -- which was just a plastic bag filled with pieces of broken glass. (Other products in this category were the "Bag O' Nails," "Bag O' Bugs," "Bag O' Vipers," and the "Bag O' Sulfuric Acid.") Then there was "Johnny Human Torch," a package of oily rags and a lighter, where the child was supposed to pin the rags on his body ("like a hobo," Mainway said) and light himself on fire.
The Mainway Latex Corporation featured the Halloween costume called "Invisible Pedestrian," a sack of black clothes meant cover the kid's body from head-to-toe, which made him completely invisible to oncoming traffic when out trick-or-treating.
Then, there was the "Johnny Combat Action Costume":
Joan Face: Alright, Mr. Mainway. But surely even you can see the danger in this next costume, which you call Johnny Combat Action Costume. This is an actual working rifle!
Irwin Mainway: An M-1, yeah.
Joan Face: I mean, this is a deadly weapon, and you're selling it to children!
Irwin Mainway: The ammo's not included. I mean, this is a very popular item, you know? Give the kid a little something extra! Field glasses, a little helmet there, the gun, you know, it makes 'em feel like a real general! I mean, this product is very popular in Texas and Detroit!
But now, in a case of life imitating "art," we read about a company in Wisconsin promoting "a rainbow of candy-colored paints" -- including bright pink, green, even something called "Barney Purple" -- to make guns look like toys. The company will even send you a kit to paint your own guns. Another report says a different Wisconsin gun dealer charged $200 to paint an AK-47 "Pepto-Bismol pink," and put the cartoon character "Hello Kitty" on the stock.
These stories are not jokes like those old Dan Aykroyd skits.
As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said,
Making a quick buck by coloring a handgun to look like a toy is craven and beneath any honest businessman. By coloring these guns, a real one looks like a toy, and a police officer won't be able to tell the difference.
This is not an idle fear. There was another story recently about police officers being forced to distinguish between fake guns that look real -- in that case air guns made to look like actual firearms. Here, with weapons painted in cartoon colors, we have real guns that look fake.
No one benefits -- except maybe some "Mainway"-like businesses -- when we make our police officers work even harder to distinguish real guns from toy guns.
Painting a gun "Barney Purple" is something only Irwin Mainway could be proud of.