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NEW YORK - Wal-Mart Stores Inc., already under fire for how it sells guns in California, now faces charges of selling toy firearms in New York that too closely resemble the real thing.
Eliot Spitzer, New York state's hard-charging attorney general, is demanding in a lawsuit that Wal-Mart stop selling toy guns that do not bear a number of distinctive markings required by state law. He claims in the suit that Wal-Mart puts children and adults alike at risk of being shot by police for wielding playthings that are easily mistaken for real guns.
Since 1997 at least four people -- two teens and two adults -- brandishing gun look-alikes have been fatally shot by police in New York when officers believed they were holding actual guns. Another teen was seriously wounded in a similar incident.
A Wal-Mart spokesman told Reuters he could not immediately respond to the suit, filed March 31 in Manhattan. The suit seeks penalties that could amount to tens of millions of dollars.
Wal-Mart just a week ago suspended sales of real guns in its 118 California stores after an investigation by that state's attorney general found hundreds of violations of state firearms laws. The Bentonville, Ark.-based company is the biggest seller of toys and real firearms.
California is weighing criminal charges against Wal-Mart for such violations as selling guns to convicted felons, Attorney General Bill Lockyer said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Spitzer, who has taken on big business over practices ranging from Wall Street stock research to false advertising, said the suit follows two and a half years of pressure on Wal-Mart to comply with New York's 1988 toy weapons law.
New York law bans toy guns with realistic colors such as black or aluminum, and requires that they bear unremovable orange stripes along the barrel.
"Wal-Mart has acknowledged that its toy guns do not have all of the state-required markings," Spitzer said. "The company maintains, however, that it need only comply with federal law, which requires an orange cap on the end of the barrel."
Wal-Mart has sold more than 42,000 toy guns in the state during the past two and a half years, Spitzer said. If the state prevails, it could seek damages equal to $1,000 for each illegal toy gun sold since April 1, 1997.