In the run up to Christmas police are warning parents not to buy toy guns for their children.
"Replica weapons look so much like the real thing that they ... can terrorise individuals and communities," said Supt Simon Williams from Essex Police.
With police being called to nearly 900 'firearms incidents' over the last year, many of which involved replica guns, children who play with toy guns run the risk of being confronted by armed marksmen.
Toy guns for children have long been a contentious issue, but usually the debate centres around whether it is good for their psychological development to be 'playing war'.
Now police are warning of a new danger which can present a more immediate safety issue for kids.
"The majority of children, teachers and parents are simply not aware of the issues and consequences of carrying around such items - they don't realise the impact these so-called 'toys' have on our communities and on us.", a spokesman said.
"When we respond to incidents we cannot always identify whether a gun is real or fake," he added.
"Carrying an imitation gun could ultimately result in a highly-trained armed officer having to challenge a teenager - and so, naturally, we are worried."
The duel affect of toy guns becoming more realistic and the prevalence of real guns on the streets means that whether we should let our kids play with such toys is no longer just a debate for child psychologists.
While many people see toy guns as a harmless plaything, for some these warnings will confirm their opinion that pretend guns are not appropriate for children.
Do you let your kids play with toy guns? Will these warnings change your mind?
Suggest a correction