Did the United States Government Ban Lawn Dart Sales After a Child’s Death?

A 1988 decision about a backyard game has been used to highlight ongoing political inaction around guns after mass shootings.

  • Published 9 October 2017
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The U.S. government banned the sale of lawn darts in the aftermath of a child's death.

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On 2 October 2017, criticism appeared on social media about a lack of federal action on gun safety that invoked the official United States government response concerning the sale of lawn darts:

The caption read:

Just your reminder that after a girl was killed playing with lawn darts in 1987, the U.S. government banned them.

Lawn darts.

This is true; by 1987, the Food and Drug Administration had already banned the sale of lawn darts (also known as jarts). However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reached a compromise with manufacturers in 1976, which allowed them to be sold under certain conditions: they could not be sold in toy stores; retailers could not place them near their toy departments; and the darts, which were typically sold in sets of four, had to include a clear warning that they should only be used by adults.

The issue was forced back into the national spotlight, however, through a campaign by David Snow. Snow’s 7-year-old daughter, Michelle, died in their California home in April 1987 after a dart penetrated her skull. At least one researcher estimated that the steel-tipped dart hit the girl with a force of 23,000 pounds per square inch. Snow said in 1988 of the federal guidelines:

We’re talking a three-foot high box with a little tiny warning. I mean, there’s something in that box that can be fatal. That’s what my anger is — because I know what happened, I didn’t see the warning and my child is now dead. Because if I had seen that warning, I would have never brought this product home.

He went on to contact several federal legislators and testify before a House subcommittee regarding the dangers that lawn darts carried. His campaign spurred the CPSC to reinstate a ban on the sale of lawn dart kits that in May 1988. The agency said at the time:

Three children — ages 4, 7, and 13 — are known to have died in lawn dart-related incidents. An estimated 670 lawn dart injuries are treated each year in U.S. hospital emergency rooms. Three quarters of the injured are under 15 years old. The types of lawn darts associated with the three deaths will be banned by the CPSC action.

In October 1988, two months before the ban would take effect, Snow said:

My year-and-a-half struggle is now over. I made seven trips to Washington. I got blisters on my feet. But I just kept at it and today is the payoff. At least now I can say I kept my promise to my little girl.

However, Bob Archer — one of the owners of Kent Sporting Goods, a U.S.-based supplier of lawn darts —questioned the agency’s ruling:

I think things are wrong with guns. Which is the greater evil — lawn darts that kill three people or guns that kill… thousands in a year?

Canada instituted a similar ban on sales and importation of lawn darts in June 1989.

However, some companies have reportedly worked around the ban by selling the dart’s two parts (the metal tips and the plastic fins) separately. While U.S. lawmakers acted quickly to ban lawn darts, legislators have been heavily criticized for refusing to take similar action in the wake of several mass shootings around the country.