Bang Bang

Let’s talk about guns.

6month08

There’s a lot to say about guns. Gun control is one of those hot topics all over the news these days. People are afraid someone’s going to take their guns. Most of us in the country support some form of gun control, background checks, limits on magazine size, automatic weapons, etc.

But forget all that for a minute. Let’s talk about kids and toys that shoot (or pretend to shoot). My first kid didn’t know a thing about guns until he was maybe three. My second kid has been handling toy weapons since he could get himself into position to grab his brother’s things, maybe about four months old. Once the first kid started shooting me with his fingers at three years old, I realized there was not going to be a way to keep him from encountering, exploring and desiring guns and other weapons (see: lightsabers). Discussing this new fascination at the time with my husband, I concluded that I should just get used to it because that’s what boys do. Heck, even I played with squirt guns in my day.

But times have changed since I was a kid. And guns can be kind of a big deal, even when they’re fat green alien dart guns that are obviously toys. Some toy boxes do not include toy guns no matter how interested the child is to own some of their very own. And I understand that. There is so much violence in the world, why rush to introduce it to our children?

But will delaying the knowledge of guns and other weapons really protect our kids from the violence in the world? Won’t a weapons ban make weapons even more attractive, since they are forbidden? Or will my kid grow up to become a school shooter just because he pretends to be a samurai, a soldier or Boba Fett? Who can say?

We are a predominantly non-violent household. We don’t allow hitting or physical fighting. Though we do encourage rough-housing and wrestling and play fighting as long as personal boundaries and limits are respected. We have a trunk full of toy guns and lightsabers and swords and other such things. And as a parent, as much as I would like to avoid the violence, I think that play allows my kids to explore these dangerous realities of the world in a safe way, in a safe place.

My husband had toy guns growing up. He is not a violent person. He doesn’t own a gun at the moment, although he plans to go hunting with his dad this fall, which may inspire him to save up for his own rifle someday. We live with a subscriber to Guns & Ammo, and even though my five-year-old has asked to look through the magazine on occasion when we first moved in, recently, he barely notices when it comes in the mail.

There are guns in our home because my father-in-law is a hunter. They are locked away out of sight, unloaded, and separated from the ammunition. My husband was taught from an early age that guns are dangerous and useful. He was taught how to handle guns and how to respect the power of such a weapon. When our sons are old enough, they will most likely be taught the same things, after years of playing with the toys.

And after thinking about it for some time, I understand wanting to shield your child from the violence of the world. To keep the mere existence of such a powerful weapon under wraps for as long as humanly possible. Because when the bad guys have guns, real guns that can paralyze or kill you with a single twitch of a finger, the world can seem downright terrifying. And even many adults have a hard time coming to terms with this.

On the other hand, I think everyone processes things differently, children included. For as long as there have been kids, there has been pretend play that included wars, fighting, killing kinds of games. I think it helps them learn to handle power, victory, defeat. It’s not just about guns. It’s about strategy. It’s about cooperation. Cowboys and Indians. Cops and Robbers. Light Side against Dark Side. Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. Sometimes, a kid has to play the villain to understand his own inherent goodness. And that’s why I let my kids have guns. Because guns are just a small fraction of the toys we have around our house. We have balls and blocks and Legos and musical instruments and books, which they love just as much and often more than the weapons.

As a parent, I don’t see it as my job to shield my children from the realities of the wide world. Because if I do that, then I leave them vulnerable to those same realities by throwing them into the world without a reference point. While some kids will play guns and others will not, some at two or maybe not until ten or never. It’s my job to teach right from wrong. To help them be the good guys out there, whether they choose to own guns or not, that they know how to be responsible and conscious citizens of the world.

My kid is more than just his choice of prop. He is sweet and friendly. He is empathetic and constructive. I know, because I know him, and because of the way I am trying to bring him up, the values in our household, that the chances are really slim to none of him growing into the kind of aggression that would make the news. I am teaching my boys to be kind. To be helpers. And whether they have any interest in playing with or ultimately owning and using guns, crossbows or swords doesn’t change their hearts.

I respect my fellow parents’ wishes to keep my kids’ guns away from their kids as long as possible, though. I definitely identify with the struggle, and I believe it’s a good conversation to have. I appreciate that we can all be thoughtful and civilized about it.

So what do you think about kids and toy weapons? Do you let your children play with toy guns? Do you ban all weapons? Or just guns? What about sticks and rocks outside? What happens when they become swords, bombs and rifles? Do you stop it? Or do you just let them play? I’d love to hear more thoughts on this.

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