WASHINGTON -- A federal agency's ban on lawn darts was a bittersweet victory for David Snow, who began a one-man crusade to forbid the product after his 7-year-old daughter died when a lawn dart was thrown into her head.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the sale of lawn darts Friday, effective in mid-December, saying the product is not a toy but a dangerous projectile that has caused thousands of injuries and at least three deaths, including that of Snow's daughter, Michelle.
'My year-and-a-half struggle is now over,' said Snow, a 40-year-old aerospace production superviser in Riverside, Calif. '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.'
Michelle Snow died in April 1987 after a dart thrown by another child became embedded in her brain.
The ban, approved on a 2-0 vote with one abstention, is the final step on the CPSC's journey to get lawn darts out of the hands of children. Previous regulatory action had required stores to include warnings that the product is for adult-use only. The agency also required stores selling lawn darts to only sell them in sporting goods departments, not toy departments.
'In the last 10 years, about 7,000 individuals have required hospital emergency care and a disproportionate number of them have been children,' said CPSC general counsel James Lacy.
'For 18 years, the government has sought solutions to prevent children from being severely injured and killed by lawn darts,' said CPSC Commissioner Anne Graham. 'Clearly, the soundest solution is the one we made today.'
But officials of the sporting goods industry felt the solution was too drastic.
'We felt that a ban is not warranted based on the limited number of fatalities associated with the product,' said Jan Kinney, the Washington director of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association Inc. 'If used properly, the product poses no safety hazard and that stronger enforcement by the CPSC could have corrected any distribution problem and not denied millions of Americans ... years of recreational enjoyment.'
An owner of the only domestic supplier of lawn darts agreed and questioned the agency's fairness.
'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?' asked Bob Archer, one of the owners of Kent Sporting Goods in New London, Ohio.
There are about 14 importers of lawn darts and Lacy said CPSC Chairman Terrence Scanlon will inform Customs Service officials of Friday's action to prevent the importation of lawn darts.
Lacy described lawn darts as '18 inch-long projectiles with pointed metal or plastic tips that are intended to stick in the ground.' He said they weigh about 1 pounds.
Congress passed legislation last week ordering the commission to ban lawn darts. Sen. Albert Gore Jr., D-Tenn., sponsored the legislation, calling the toys 'lethal weapons.' More than 500,000 sets are sold each year.
Snow said he has talked with the parents of 11-year-old Amy Herrin of Nashville, Tenn., who has been kept in a deep coma since her cousin accidentally threw a dart into her forehead. Doctors induced the coma to prevent brain swelling after eight hours of surgery to remove the dart.
'I knew it would be just a matter of time before I picked up a newspaper and saw it happened again,' Snow said. 'I wanted to prevent this. It's too late for my little girl, but maybe this will be the last one,' he said.
Coincidentally, on Oct. 25, Federal Judge Joyce Green ruled in Sears, Roebuck and Co.'s favor on charges brought by CPSC that a Sears store in Puerto Rico violated a March 1988 consent decree involving the sale of lawn darts.
Green said Sears had taken all possible steps to comply with the decree and should not be held in contempt of court because of a problem with one store.
But Sears and all stores will have to clear their shelves of lawn darts when the ban becomes effective in mid-December, making it difficult for parents to buy lawn darts as last-minute Christmas gifts.