A new shooting arcade with realistic toy assault rifles is not a good look for the Fashion District | Jenice Armstrong
The last thing Philly needs is a business that puts even toy guns in the hands of young people. We have too many of the real thing out on the streets as it is.
I hadn’t shopped at the Fashion District since before the pandemic.
I stopped by the Market Street mall still commonly known as the Gallery on Wednesday with a specific goal: to check out an airsoft shooting gallery called Aim Point that opened last month.
Unlike its sister operation at New Jersey’s Deptford Mall, this one lacks the disturbing military imagery on the walls. But it does have the realistic assault-style weapons. They’re heavier than expected and have the bright orange tips as required to indicate to law enforcement that they’re toys and shoot plastic pellets, not bullets.
After handing over a credit card, I picked up one of the toy firearms and began firing at a target across the room. For $20, I got 120 pellets, which I shared with a colleague. It sounds like a lot, but when you’re firing automatic “weapons” like that, they go quickly.
I walked away feeling mildly entertained but also concerned about normalizing gun culture even more than it already is. Imagine booking a place like this for a child’s birthday party. A sign on the wall at the Deptford Aim Point advertises parties for “max 6 shooters, including B-day shooter.”
What’s the dress code for a party like that? Camouflage and protective eye coverings?
Even though experts insist that playing with toy guns doesn’t promote aggressive behavior, it’s still a bad look for the Fashion District.
With the city’s ongoing gun crisis, the last thing Philly needs is a business that puts even toy guns in the hands of young people. We have too many of the real thing out on the streets as it is.
Citywide, there have been 461 homicides through Tuesday, up from 415 during the same period in 2020, and on pace for the deadliest year ever. Authorities say they are mostly fueled by arguments, drugs, domestic violence, and social media beefs.
So many local young people have to go to sleep each night hearing gun shots. They hear about shootings on the news and social media. They shouldn’t be greeted with real-looking imitation guns at the mall, too.
I know Aim Point isn’t breaking any laws by feeding into America’s love affair with guns. But even toy guns can have real consequences, as we saw in the tragic case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the Cleveland youth who was playing with one in 2015 when police mistook it for the real thing and killed him.
In 2019, neighborhood residents got so upset about the opening of an Aim Point at the Montgomery Mall just outside of Washington, D.C., that the operation quickly shut down. Kudos to those concerned citizens, no doubt still jittery from a 2018 shooting at the mall.
I repeatedly called the Fashion District management, but no one got back to me. I did hear from Renata Giers, a regional manager from Aim Point, who told me via text: “Our business does not promote guns.”
“We use Airsofts only. That is identified as [a] toy,” she wrote. “We do not allow children under age of 14 to play without their parents and or guardians.”
Even if playing with toy guns doesn’t promote aggressive behavior, it’s still a bad look for a mall that’s seen more than its share of bad times but has been showing signs of improvement. In September, the Irish retailing giant Primark welcomed its first customers at the Fashion District. The food court is expected to reopen in December.
During my visit, I gaped at the sight of customers drinking coffee at a blond-colored Starbucks counter set up just steps from the SEPTA station. Uniformed security guards were in force. There were even a few new stores added to the lackluster mix since my last visit.
Mall customer Kareem Belgrave, a photographer/videographer, said he’s not opposed to the shooting gallery, but said it should be near the third-level gaming arcade.
“To have it in a gaming area makes a lot more sense,” he told me. “You want it to feel like a game and not real life.”
Belgrave is right about that. Gaming may be one thing, but in real life there are already way too many guns around.