The Summer 1992 Backlash Against the Super Soaker

Summer 1992 NYT headline

New York Times Headline About Boston's Proposed Super Soaker Ban (June 9, 1992)


On the evening of June 8, 1992 Richard Cooke and several of his friends were having a friendly water gun fight at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 153rd Street in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. When one of the water streams missed its intended target and hit a passerby, the angered man pulled out a pistol and opened fire, injuring two.

The immense popularity of the Super Soaker coincided with a spike of violent crime in the United States during the late mid-1980s to early 1990s. Between 1985 and 1990, hand gun related murders in the United States more than doubled. In 1990, the murder rate in New York City peaked, with 2,245 killings. The Super Soaker, with a decidedly gun like appearance, was caught in the crossfire as American society grappled with how to reduce gun violence.

Super Soaker Related Violence

The first widely reported incident involving Super Soakers and guns occurred in Boston in May 1992. A 15-year-old Boston teen was shot to death after a Super Soaker fight escalated to deadly violence. In a separate incident in Boston that year, a mother and four year old received minor burns after being shot with a Super Soaker filled with bleach. Other stories surrounding the misuse of Super Soakers soon surfaced, including using the water guns to shoot ammonia and urine.

In response, the mayor of Boston asked that Super Soakers be pulled off the shelves. He was soon joined by a Michigan State Senator and a New Jersey Assemblyman who put forward bills to regulate or end the sale of Super Soakers in their respective states. Super Soaker opponents were not limited to politicians. From his pulpit, a Hartford Connecticut priest, urged the Governor to regulate the use of Super Soakers. Holding a Super Soaker in his hand and preaching he told his congregation the water gun was "…not something that is going to cool the flames of violence and anger…this is something that's going to stoke those flames." School administrators also cracked down on Super Soakers, with many schools banning the water guns at end of the year parties. Other detractors questioned if children and teens had the maturity to handle powerful Super Soakers and linked the Super Soaker to violent television and movies.

Summer 1992 WAPO headline

Washington Post Headline on Super Soakers (June 12, 1992)

Response of Larami

Larami responded to the controversy by defending the continued sale of Super Soakers and taking aim at gun violence. A spokesman for Larami said "Larami is surprised by the fact that so much attention is being placed on our water toy instead of the gun used". The Chief Financial Officer of Larami stated "if it was a baseball bat, would the Mayor of Boston be trying to outlaw baseball?" Lonnie Johnson, the inventor of the Super Soaker, also weighed in on the controversy. Johnson stated "why pick on the toy when its not the toys that are doing the killing." He also floated the idea of a program where real guns could be traded for Super Soakers.

Others joined Larami in stating that Super Soaker bans were missing the real issue, which was gun violence in the United States. The New York Times editorialized that "bullets, not water, cause bloodshed. The most urgent need is to remove more of the real guns from the streets." Newspapers in Canada and Britain caught wind of the Super Soaker controversy and expressed their dismay that the response to teens getting shot while using water guns was to ban water guns. Martin Walker, a columnist in The Guardian wrote, "the decision by the city fathers of Boston to ban the new generation of hi-tech water pistols is another sign of the galloping lunacy which is overtaking the United States."


By the end of June 1992, many stores in the City of Boston had complied with the request to cease selling Super Soakers, including CVS, K-Mart, and Walgreens. The ban was not official, and retailers considered resuming sales after receiving community input. Other retailers continued to sell the immensely popular water gun, including the Sharper Image and Urban Outfitters.

At the close of summer, the controversy seemed to have faded away and it is unclear if any other municipalities placed a ban on water guns. Nevertheless, the controversy surrounding the Super Soaker reflected the unease in American society during the 1990s around escalating gun violence. The Super Soaker was either viewed as tool that furthered violence, or as a scapegoat for the inability to make meaningful inroads to keep American children and families safe.

Selected Bibliography:
Boston Fights Water Guns. New York Times. June 9, 1992.
Water Gunplay Provokes Shooting of 2. New York Times. June 10, 1992.
Controlling the Wrong Guns. New York Times. June 10, 1992.
Super Soakers Produce Stream of Controversy. Washington Post . June 13, 1992.
Squirt Guns Draw Real Fire. New York Times. June 14, 1992
Starting an Arms Race for Boys and Girls. Globe and Mail. June 15, 1992.
Priest Says State Should Regulate Super Soakers. Hartford Courant. June 15, 1992.
American Diary. The Guardian. June 22, 1992.
Water Gun Raises Problems of Responsibility. New York Times. June 25, 1992.
Super Soaker Squirt Weapon Spurs Boston Controversy. Harvard Crimson. June 27, 1992.
What Caused the Great Crime Decline in the U.S.? The Atlantic . April 15, 2016.

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