Until recently, I have had a pretty laid back policy with regard to toy guns. I didn’t actively seek out any military style play for my children, but when they wanted a wooden musket from Colonial Williamsburg or a police costume with handcuffs and a gun, I didn’t object. My mother bought marshmallow shooters one Christmas (a big pain, in the end, because they shoot marshmallows everywhere!). Nerf guns are popular in our circle of boys, and we’ve had several in our house, though they usually jam up enough to be frustrating and quickly tossed aside. The only gun toy with real staying power turned out to be a laser tag set.
I grew up with Photon — it was the coolest thing ever to have a laser tag at home in a huge house — so I was happy for my kids to spend time in a dark basement playing laser tag, it seemed, in it’s own way, like good clean fun. Plus, my boys need all the help they can get when it comes to cool playdate activity, because we don’t have video games.
I thought it was sort of lame, and perhaps a little bit dated, to be the type of parent who didn’t allow any toy guns. Besides, it seems pointless to ban guns when I noticed that my boys made guns out of anything, from duplos to their fingers, and mostly math linking cubes. We couldn’t even get through a Saxon lesson that involved linking cubes because they were all so distracted by building them into guns.
Then, about a week ago, a boy jumped into the living room with a rebel yell and opened fire right behind my ear. The chuck-chuck-chuck of the laser gun aimed at his twin sister made me jump and then burst into tears.
Shaken, I had the children put the laser guns away in the hall closet and then sat them down and explained that we would not have any more gun play in our household. I told them about Newtown, about the fact that a sick, terrible person had really done what my son was doing in play, had opened fire on rooms full of innocent teachers and children. Something in that moment made me realize that there was nothing funny about pretending to shoot your sister.
Today, I had another very upsetting encounter with a toy gun. My family was in a small shopping center in upstate New York passing time while our car was serviced at Sears. While we were walking from the bathrooms back to a play area, a young man with many piercings walked by us, aimed a laser tag gun at each of the children and fired, with the same noisy chuck-chuck-chuck. My 4 year old was very scared. My older daughter stared after him and noticed that he was firing at all of the children – and only the children – who walked past.
It takes a sociopathic edge to think that it is funny to walk around a mall and terrify small children. I’m not saying that this man’s next move is to open fire on the public, but if he did you wouldn’t hear his neighbors on TV saying “I never would have guessed it, he was just the sweetest boy.” He is in the process of desensitizing himself to violence, or even worse, training himself to enjoy the power he feels from the fear in a little boy’s eyes. Where does it go from here?
Other families have made reasonable rules about playing with guns – don’t aim at faces, for example, or only pretend to shoot those who are playing the game, or guns only in role play situations like Star Wars, or only for target practice. These all seem like appropriate rules, but I’m scared of guns, they upset me, and I don’t want the trauma of gun violence to be a game in my house. There are plenty of other healthy ways to get that testosterone out – my boys wrestle, they race, they throw snowballs and try to seize control of the snow fort, but they don’t shoot at people. Period.