This morning I got a comment on one of my blog posts that made me shake my head. Tricia, a young mom from Western Australia, told me that she had gotten an angry email from another woman when she wrote a blog suggesting that toy guns are a part of growing up. The woman who emailed told Tricia she was encouraging people to raise murderers. I immediately thought Tricia should have told the woman to go sell crazy somewhere else. What the holy hell is wrong with people?
Now, I’m no child development expert, but I did look around a bit today for information on the subject of children and imaginary violent play. There are no studies that link pretend gun fights to an increased likelihood of adult violence. There was one study that actually suggested that boys perform better in school when they’re allowed to engage in this type of imaginary play. Honestly, if every boy I knew as a child became a murderer because he played with toy weaponry, I’m not entirely sure there would be a living soul in the western United States.
I understand our natural tendency to want to curb violent play in our children. As a new mother of two boys, I decided I would not purchase toy guns for our sons to play with. Round about the time they were 5 and 3, though, they started using their fingers to pretend to shoot each other. Apparently, keeping the guns out of their hands was not going to hinder their notion of gun play. While my sons do not own guns that shoot anything other than Nerf bullets, they do enjoy shooting at each other. We’ve never been parents who wrestle with our boys and our boys do not wrestle with each other, so perhaps this “shooting” helps them act out their natural aggression in a harmless way? I’m not sure. All I do know is that whether or not I had wanted them to talk about gun ships, war, and killing, it seeped its way into their lives. They seem no worse for the wear because of it. They are not violent boys. Joe will cry when the neighbor boys steps on ants in our driveway. (For the record, I don’t think that crying makes him a sissy, either.)
I do understand that we are hypersensitive to guns after the recent killings at the movie theater in Aurora, and I am not entirely comfortable with actual guns myself. But, toy guns are not real guns, and I am clever enough to understand there’s a difference. I’m not handing my boys semi-automatic assault weapons loaded with live ammunition to play with. I’m simply allowing them an outlet that encourages their style of creative, imaginary play. As long as boys have been boys, there has been cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians. It seems to be a rite of passage. Why get worked up over it? I’m not sure purchasing Nerf guns for my sons turns them into murderers any more than handing a young girl an Easy Bake Oven will turn her into the Julia Child. Heck. I played Charlie’s Angels with my sisters when I was growing up. My gun fingers neither turned me into a murderer or Farrah Fawcett.
To the woman who found it necessary to berate my fellow blogger, Tricia, I would simply suggest this: find something else to worry about. Perhaps a new hobby would help relax you? I’d suggest knitting, but that involves needles and I wouldn’t want to turn you into a heroin addict. If the new hobby doesn’t work, then Xanax might. I have no personal knowledge about Xanax, but I’ve heard it works wonders when you’re a bit overwrought. We all need to relax a bit and not become too worked up over things that have no root in day-to-day reality. We do the best we can with our boys. Sometimes their incessant chatter about bullets and battles makes me uncomfortable, but that’s my problem not theirs. I don’t believe that their toy guns will lead them to violence in adulthood. After all, toy guns don’t kill people, crazy people do.
The one-for-one activity-to-development equation never made any sense to me, either. They all played with boats, and none of them are sailors.
Who would be surprised that kids play at shooting each other? The entire history of our country is based on heroes like George Washigton and Teddy Roosevelt who went to war to fight for our freedom. Today’s members of the armed forces are respected and revered. Movies, cartoons stageplays and comics are filled with heroes wielding guns from Daniel Boone to Luke Skywalker. Kids are also taught that death and destruction caused by war or firearms is greivious; the Assasination of two American Presidents, Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, Hiroshima.
In my family (beginning with my dad when I was a young boy) we teach kids how to shoot REAL GUNS. Yes, you read right. We set up target ranges or “plink” at cans with “22” rifles. Age seven or eight, depending on the kid, is a place to start. Now, mind you, my father was not a hunter, nor am I. Uncle Bob is a hunter (along with his brothers-in-law), my son-in-law is a hunter, but hunting is only one aspect of sporting guns. Even the Olympics have a place for sporting rifles.
Here’s my philosophy: By being the person to place REAL guns and REAL bullets in their hands, I can know personally that they have been taught all the rules of safe firearm handling. They also get to know what the look and weight of a real gun is like, so they will never mistake one for a toy or think a bullet or shotshell is something you could pick up or play with. Lastly, this eliminates the whole “taste of forbidden fruit” attraction that affects some kids. Firearms are a normal part of our lives and have their intended purpose and place. Our kids will not play with real guns. Our kids will not freak out around guns handled by others (hunters, police, etc.). Our kids will not be ignorant of the power and deadliness of a firearm or its projectile.
By handing our kids guns, we make them safer.
NOTE: We have a family history of handling firearms, and there are MANY IMPORTANT RULES to follow when using them, from the range to cleaning. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS WITHOUT AN EXPERIENCED FIREARM USER!
Gun Clubs and Fish & Game clubs will always have someone that is willing to teach newcomers the safe & responsible enjoyment of our right to keep and bear arms.
Take care and keep in touch,
I reached the same conclusion myself as a new mother when my son started biting his grilled cheese sandwich into a gun shape and “shooting” with it. Besides, Nerf gun shootouts are a heckuva lot of fun!