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NJ town warns of "zero tolerance" policy for Orbeez, water bead guns after multiple shootings involving toy

NJ police department warns against shooting Orbeez guns
NJ police department warns against shooting Orbeez guns 00:28

GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) -- Police warned residents this week that officers will have "zero tolerance" for shootings involving a toy gun they say was used earlier this month amid the chaos of Gloucester Township Day, where hundreds of young people were involved in fights at a park and shopping center.

Gloucester Township police say they have "zero tolerance" for Orbeez guns and similar "gel blaster" guns, which fire water-absorbing beads that could potentially injure victims.

Besides the incident at Gloucester Township Day, where police said juveniles were shooting the water beads at animals in Veterans Park, police said they investigated an incident on Tuesday "where juveniles were shooting an Orbeez gun at people from a moving vehicle."

Five people were recording the incident for social media and were identified by police officers, the department said on Facebook.

Multicolored water beads
Child holding water beads, or expanded hydrophilic polymer. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Then on Wednesday afternoon, police took another call about two men and a woman "shooting an Orbeez gun at random people walking outside."

Police warned parents to talk to their children about the dangers of hydrogel guns, some of which are sold online with minimal features to identify them as toys (like bright-colored barrels). Some users also remove those tips or other parts that make it obvious the gun is a toy, something police say could lead to the toy gun being mistaken for a real firearm.

"It is possible an individual may mistake the toy gun as a realistic threat, endangering the safety of your children or others," the department said. "GTPD will also be identifying, arresting, and charging suspects who improperly utilized these toy guns to cause fear or panic to our Gloucester Township, New Jersey residents."

Parents express fears for their own children after Gloucester Township Day turns chaotic 02:12

In 2022 and 2023, police departments around the U.S. warned of a social media challenge called the "Orbeez Challenge," where people would film videos of them firing the gel guns at random passersby. Searching the term on TikTok now results in a "no results found" page with a bit of text explaining the "phrase may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines."

Gloucester Township's announcement comes two weeks after police in Woodbury, New Jersey warned the public in a Facebook post about an increase in gel blasters being used in public. Though those guns are legal toys, shooting them at people could result in criminal charges including simple assault or disorderly conduct, Woodbury police said.

"We understand that not all individuals are utilizing these guns in negative ways, and we are not trying to ruin everyone's fun. Unfortunately, certain groups are causing problems, which have resulted in multiple situations where victims were injured," the statement said.

New bill would ban water beads

Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission warned that water beads can expand exponentially inside a child's body. CPSC estimates there have been 4,500 visits to hospital emergency rooms due to water beads since 2017.  

In December 2023, major retailers including Amazon, Target and Walmart said they would stop selling the products.

In May, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation to ban water beads nationwide due to potential danger if a child ingests them. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has warned that beads can expand exponentially if ingested.

The new legislation is named after a little girl named Esther who swallowed a stray water bead that her older sibling had played with months earlier. Esther did not survive. Now, Esther's Law aims to protect children in the future. 

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