How G.I. Joes and other action figures get fans into serious trouble in an ever-weirder world

Plastic Public Enemy #1: Ian Driscoll of the UK, a typical GIjOE and Action Man collector, was (almost) arrested by a force of 5 heavily armed policemen who stormed his home after viewing photos he had posted of his toys (shown above) on his Facebook page. (Photo: Kevin Fern)

Who would’ve thought that owning, playing with, or sharing GIjOEs, Action Man or other related 1:6 scale toys could get you into serious trouble? Well, it’s true! In today’s increasingly “sensitive” society, reports of action figure collectors getting into trouble with the law, airport security, school officials and other such authority figures are becoming regular occurrences on the nightly news. For example…

Mini-Mortar Madness in the UK

Action Man fan and collector, Ian Driscoll was jolted out of his easy chair one evening recently as his home was “stormed” by five heavily armed police officers, two of them carrying machine-guns. Details of Driscoll’s startling encounter with England’s finest were first made public in an eye-opening article in the Daily Mail, which reported:

“There were five police officers at the door, two of them carrying submachine guns. And they were ready to smash the door open… They had come in search of a deadly mortar tube – spotted in the background of a picture that Mr Driscoll had posted on Facebook. Mr Driscoll, 43, did indeed have a mortar in the home and promptly showed it to the squad. It was a toy.

The Facebook photo that started it all. Note the ominous bipod leg of the mortar. And the TV remote. And the baseboard. And the plastic dog. And the action figure. Call the police! (Photo: Ian Driscoll)

The Facebook photo that started it all. Note the ominous bipod leg of the mortar. And the TV remote. And the baseboard. And the plastic dog. And the action figure. Call the police! (Photo: Ian Driscoll)

After inspecting the model mortar, the rather embarrassed team of officers apologised and took their leave. ‘I couldn’t believe someone thought it was real,’ said Mr Driscoll, a model maker, at his home in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. ‘It’s tiny and quite clearly a toy. I can’t stop laughing. I think it’s hilarious.’The mortar (in the Facebook photo) was near to a TV remote control which showed how small it was. Nevertheless, someone called in the police. ‘I was stunned.”

A newspaper article revealing the stunning decision of a Seattle school district to expel 10-year old Jeffrey Parks for bringing his GIjOE to school. (Photo: Google News)

A newspaper article revealing the stunning decision of a Seattle school district to expel 10-year old Jeffrey Parks for bringing a 1″ GIjOE toy to school. (Photo: Google News)

Sleepless  EXPELLED in Seattle

There have also been many occasions where children were called into the principal’s office (or worse) for bringing any part of “America’s Movable Fighting Man” onto school grounds. In a famous 1997 story from Seattle, WA (note this was long before 9/11, Colombine, Newtown, etc,.), 10-year old Jeffrey Parks was not just suspended from his elementary school—he was EXPELLED. The Spokane Review reported Jeffrey’s “date with GIjOE destiny” this way:

“The Seattle School District suspended a 10-year-old boy for bringing a replica of an Army-issue handgun to school. That inch-long plastic gun also belonged to G.I. Joe, an action figure that’s been a favorite of boys since 1964.”

Public reaction to the Seattle school’s heavy-handed treatment of a 10-year old GIjOE fan ranged from bemused incredulity to outright astonishment. In Texas, the San Antonio Express News had this to say about Jeffrey’s expulsion:

“Once schools reopened after the holidays, the ‘silly season’ started again. Jeffrey Parks, 10, was expelled Monday from John Rogers Elementary School in Seattle for carrying to the school an 11-inch G.I. Joe doll whose accouterments include a 1-inch plastic pistol.”

This figure and his weapon were enough to get 3 children suspended from school in Spokane, WA. (Photo: Spokesman-Review)

Suspended in Spokane

In a similar incident, 8-year old Austin Anderson and two other children were suspended from their school in Spokane, WA, for bringing GIjOE toys to school. According to the story in the Spokesman-Review

“A third-grader, along with two other boys, was suspended Friday from Bemiss Elementary School for bringing toy guns to the northeast Spokane school. But, according to third-grader’s mother, the toy guns her son carried in his pocket were for GI Joe action figures. The guns are from only 1 inch to 3 inches long — half the size of a pencil. The boys were told Friday they would be suspended.”

9-year old Patrick Timoney learned the hard way that GIjOE weapons, even as small as this, are unwelcome at his school in Staten Island, NY. (Photo: ParentDish)

9-year old Patrick Timoney learned the hard way that GIjOE weapons are unwelcome at his school in Staten Island, NY. (Photo: NYDN)

Busted by a LEGO Cop

On the other side of the country, 9-year old GIjOE and LEGO fan, Patrick Timoney, of Staten Island, NY, made the mistake of taking a 2″ long GIjOE weapon to school. Yes, you read that right—TWO INCHES! In Patrick’s case, his parents (including an ex-NYPD police officer Dad) were less willing to accept the school’s threat of immediate suspension and countered with a threat of their own—to sue. In an article in the New York Daily News, we learn:

“Laura Timoney went ballistic when she received a call from her son’s school. Staten Island fourth-grader Patrick Timoney was in tears because he was being threatened with a suspension by P.S. 52 principal, Evelyn Matroianni.

His crime? Possession of a 2-inch toy gun, which Patrick had placed in the hand of a LEGO police officer during a lunchtime toy break. ‘The toy gun is not the issue,’ Laura Timoney tells the Daily News. ‘A lack of common sense is the issue.’ After a meeting was held between parents and school officials, it was decided that Patrick would not be suspended over the wee weapon.”

TIP for all school officials: Always remember to tape your evidence to a piece of paper to prevent losing it during a child’s suspension or expulsion hearing. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

Taped to a Piece of Paper

In Alabama, 9-year old GIjOE fan, Austin Crittenden, endured similar indignities, humiliations and threats of suspension. According to an article about the incident published in the Free Republic:

“Nine-year-old Austin Crittenden expected to be out of school for at least a week and was awaiting a Monday hearing to determine his punishment for bringing a plastic G.I. Joe handgun to school earlier this week. Vicki Stewart, Austin’s grandmother and guardian, said the third-grader’s principal “had to tape the gun to a piece of paper to keep from losing it.”

Fun with the TSA

Judy Powell (Photo: Daily Mail)

Children aren’t the only ones having tiny, 1″ toy guns confiscated by authority figures. In a similar story of modern-day absurdity, employees of TSA airport security in Los Angeles revealed an almost pathological blindness to common sense in a recent passenger screening situation. Grandmother Judy Powell of the UK, had purchased a brand-new, 10th Mountain Division GIjOE (the great one with the skis) as a gift for her grandson and found out the hard way how times have changed. Here’s how her story was reported in the UK Daily Mail

“A British tourist told last night how airport staff seized a 2-inch gun from a toy soldier she was carrying home for her grandson. Judy Powell, 55, bought the ‘GI Joe’, a U.S. version of Action Man, during a holiday in America, as a gift for seven-year-old George. But she had not reckoned with the zeal of staff at Los Angeles International Airport.

As she prepared to catch her return flight to London she was stopped and searched. Guards pulled the toy, still in its box, from her hand luggage and relieved it of its tiny replica Armalite rifle. Not content with that, Mrs Powell says, they then asked her if there were any grenades with the toy.

‘I thought they were joking but they were not smiling,’ said Mrs Powell, from Walton on the Hill, Surrey. ‘They were deadly serious.’ It has to be questioned, however, how much of a risk an 11-inch GI Joe could pose to U.S. national security. ‘I bought the toy in Las Vegas for my grandson,’ said Mrs Powell.

The 10th Mountain Division soldier with skis and other related equipment and weaponry was one of Hasbro's finest GIjOEs. (Photo: ebay)

The 10th Mountain Division soldier with skis and other related equipment and weaponry was one of Hasbro’s finest GIjOEs. (Photo: ebay)

‘I’d bought him a GI Joe on a previous visit to America and he wanted another one dressed in a snow suit and skis. The toy was still in its box and was in the hand luggage simply because I’d forgotten to pack it in the suitcase.’ But when Mrs Powell put the bag through the X-ray machine, GI Joe’s weapon was picked out by staff as dangerous. ‘The woman who first examined the box called over her supervisor and they asked me to take the toy out of its box. ‘Then they examined the toy as if it was going to shoot them and looked at the rifle.’

‘They told me if GIjOE wanted to keep the gun I’d have to return to the check-in and put it in my suitcase. ‘I couldn’t believe it. They said if I didn’t check it into the hold of the aircraft they’d confiscate the gun.’

7-year old George Powell at home in the UK with the 10th Mountain Division GIjOE his grandparents purchased for him—SANS weapon. Thanks a lot, TSA! (Photo: UK Daily Mail)

7-year old George Powell at home in the UK with the 10th Mountain Division GIjOE his grandparents purchased for him—sans weapons. (Photo: Daily Mail)

In the end Mrs Powell, who was with her husband Blake, told the security staff to take the gun.’I was really angry to start with because of the absurdity of the situation,’ she said. ‘But then I saw the funny side of it and thought this was simple lunacy. The whole world is going MAD if we resort to such stupid measures! I can understand them wanting to ban things that are weapons or look like weapons. But surely common sense has got to take over at some point.’

Young George was less amused when he received his gift, minus gun. ‘He was really upset,’ said his mother, 29-year-old Becky, also from Walton on the Hill. ‘He knew the toy was missing an important part. My husband and I explained to him what had happened to GI Joe’s gun but he just kept shaking his head and saying it was silly. ‘How do you explain that sort of crazy thinking to a child?’

The power of a picture was painfully demonstrated by a group of terrorists who claimed this image of a 1:6 action figure was an actual American soldier that they were going to behead. (Photo: )

The power of a picture was painfully demonstrated by a group of terrorists who claimed this image of a 1:6 action figure was an actual American soldier that they were going to behead. (Photo: Al Mujahedeen )

Confusing 1:6 Scale with 1:1 Scale

The vast majority of collectors who get into some sort of trouble do so innocently. By contrast, in 2005, a group of terrorists INTENTIONALLY tried to intimidate and instill fear in the public by posting a very provocative photograph online. According to a recap of the incident on About.com:

“A photograph of what Islamic militants claimed was a captured U.S. soldier in Iraq turns out to be a toy action figure. The would-be hostage is better known as “Special Ops Cody,” a military action figure created by Dragon Models USA.

A militant group calling itself the Al Mujahedeen Brigade posted a photograph of the doll with a gun to his head, claiming that it was a kidnapped soldier named John Adam. The group threatened to behead him if Iraqi prisoners were not released by U.S. forces. There is no word yet on the fate of the doll.”

Bottom Line: It appears we’ve entered a very “WEIRD” time in human history. We suggest you double-check your carry-on luggage, remind your children about “no toys to school,” and as GIjOE fan and collector Chung Kim wisely warned us...”Be careful what you post on Facebook!”

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6 thoughts on “How G.I. Joes and other action figures get fans into serious trouble in an ever-weirder world

  1. marcos mendez says:

    love this articlei

  2. Saul Friedman says:

    I had a run in with TSA in St Louis when I carried on a Dragon B-17F waist gunner still in the box. It has a 50 caliber machine gun and was asked if it was operational. I was laughing but one of the TSA agents was dead serious. Finally another agent came over and cleared me thru after checking it out and told me he was a GI Joe collector as well.

  3. Chung Kim says:

    Some . . . not all . . . TSA agents/representatives lack common sense & courtesy. So far, I’ve been very fortunate in encountering those with common sense & courtesy.

  4. kneonknight says:

    Wow, just…wow. I guess my dear old dad was right when he used to say that “common sense…isn’t.”

    Idiots.

    I wonder if young George ever got a replacement for the M16 that the airport security stole from him?

  5. Matt Pak says:

    Back in 1979 I was returning from London and customs grilled me about a bong I had hidden in my suitcase…only it wasn’t a bong, it was an Action Man Deep Sea Diver helmet I had purchased at Harrad’s. Fortunately I had the rest of the uniform to show the customs agent, but I still think he was convinced I was trying to smuggle something out of the country.

  6. Monte Calabrese says:

    It’s a real shame that this country (and world) is losing its mind. Our founding fathers made this country so that it would be free. Well I guess if they had known how it would’ve turned out they might have stayed English.

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