However, cap pistols use caps with extremely small amounts of explosives for the sound effect. Toy hand grenades do not contain explosives except for a cap. BB guns are often called toy guns, but their shots can cause bodily harm.
Many newer toy weapons are brightly colored and oddly shaped to appeal to children and distinguish them from the real thing (see Dangers below). For example, a toy that shoots Nerf balls might have a rounded shape and a neon yellow color.
For big weapons, the toy version is usually on a smaller scale. It might be much smaller, such as a toy catapult that is tall. Or it might just be sized for children, such as a squirt gun that is half the size of a similar firearm.
A prop weapon (such as a stage gun or a stage sword) has to look real, but like a toy weapon, it should not be dangerous. A woodworking business, the Parris Manufacturing Company was contracted by the United States Government to provide over 2 million accurate copies of the M1903 Springfield rifles for the large World War II US armed forces. After the war they manufactured and sold their replicas to drill teams and to children as toy guns.
Children have always had small imitations of things from the adult world and toy weapons are no exception. From a hand carved wooden replica to factory produced pop guns and cap guns, toy weapons came in all sizes, prices and materials from wood to metal.
With the influence of Hollywood and comic strips, tie-ins could make an ordinary toy gun a major bestseller. In the 1930s Daisy Outdoor Products came out with a Buck Rogers Rocket Pistol (1933), Disintegrator Pistol (1934), and Liquid Helium Pistol (1935) that sold in record numbers.
In 1940 Daisy went from spacemen to cowboys with their Red Ryder BB Gun that still is in production today. Though the Red Ryder comic strip is not as popular as it was with its spin-offs on radio and the cinema, the Red Ryder BB Gun gained a new life from the film A Christmas Story. In the 1950s motion pictures and television heroes Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and Davy Crockett added their names to toy six shooters and rifles.
Mattel had used television advertising to sell their "burp gun" on The Mickey Mouse Club in the mid 1950s to great effect. In 1959 Mattel sponsored their own television show Matty's Funday Funnies with their trademark little boy "Matty" showing cartoons and advertising their products. Mattel toys came out with Dick Tracy weapons in 1960 that were state of the art. Not only could the "Dick Tracy Crimestoppers" have a realistic snubnosed revolver in a shoulder holster, but Mattel also boosted junior law enforcement firepower with a Dick Tracy cap firing tommy gun that fired a burst of 6 caps automatically when the M-1 Thompson-style bolt was pulled back. Mattel also came up with a "Dick Tracy Water Jet Gun" that was a miniature replica of a police pump action shotgun that fired caps when you pulled the trigger and squirted water when you pumped the slide. When the Dick Tracy craze faded the same two weapons were reissued in military camouflage as Green Beret "Guerrilla Fighter" weapons. (see United States Army Special Forces in popular culture). Mattel later issued the same tommy gun in its original colours as a Planet of the Apes tie-in complete with ape mask.
In the mid 1960s Multiple Toymakers/Multiple Plastics Corporation (MPC) came out with James Bond's attache case from From Russia With Love. Topper Toys replied with a copy called "Secret Sam" that featured a toy gun that fired plastic bullets through the attache case and had a working camera that outsold 007's kit. MPC toys replied with a "B.A.R.K" - "Bond Assault and Raider Kit" an attache case that opened up to display a firing mortar and a rocket shooting pistol. MPC also provided a "Bond-O-Matic" water pistol. Bond's television competition The Man From UNCLE had their pistol with attachments that turned it into a rifle made by both the Ideal Toy Company in the US and the Lone Star Toys company in the United Kingdom.
Perhaps inspired by Zulu (film) but not advertised as a film tie in, a mid 1960's child's toy blowgun the size of a ball point pen called a "Zulugun" was produced that shot plastic sticking darts that sadly were often inhaled and swallowed.
Perhaps the ultimate toy weapon was the 1964 Topper Toys Johnny Seven OMA (One Man Army) where an exciting television commercial showed one little boy using each of the seven weapons of the gun to wipe out a neighborhood full of children armed only with ordinary toy guns. Though an amazing seller, the Captain Kangaroo television program refused to air the advertisement. The proliferation of toy weapons was satirized in the Our Man in Toyland episode of Get Smart.
As plastic replaced wood and metal in toy weapon manufacture, so did real weapons such as the M-16 start a trend to use plastic in manufacturing modern assault rifles. Current military rifles such as the Steyr AUG now resemble children's toys. Technological advancement also enabled weapons to be the same size of toy weapons. In previous days Colt Peacemaker pistols, Winchester lever action rifles, tommy guns, and Louis Marx and Company children's versions of the M-1 and M-14 were noticeably scaled down in size and unlikely to be mistaken for the real thing. From the 1960s weapons like the Uzi and Mac-10 submachine guns are the same size as children's toys.
Problems with toy weapons that look very much like a real one include:
Therefore these toy weapons are forbidden in many countries. Realistic looking toys are often called "replicas". In the United States since 1992, toy guns are required to have an orange plug or be entirely brightly colored to signify them as toys.
Toy weapons are sometimes banned from certain public places where responses could cause a disruption.
Jean Shepherd's alleged encounter with a righteous elderly woman wearing a "DISARM THE TOY INDUSTRY" button led to his writing his nostalgic story about his Red Ryder BB Gun Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid published in Playboy magazine in 1964. The story became part of his 1966 collection In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash that was used as the basis of the film A Christmas Story.
Toy guns were removed from the Sears Roebuck 1968 Christmas catalog after the assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and U.S. Senator, former United States Attorney General, and presidential candidate Robert Francis Kennedy.
English Children's Clown Barney Baloney AKA Tony Turner is a practitioner of balloon modelling. He was banned from providing children with shaped toy balloons because a national supermarket chain said the latex may be harmful. Barney stated "I also go into schools to entertain children and recently in Rotherham I was told that I mustn't make guns out of balloons because it could encourage violence but I was told it was okay to make swords".