Boys and their toys
Unfortunately for the peaceful parent one thing is almost always the same: boys pull the trigger. Christopher Noxon takes a look at the issue of kids and guns.
Article originally in Reuters
They're the family with the canvas shopping bag, the clutter of
vitamin bottles and the strict rules prohibiting the viewing of violent
cartoons and the use of toy guns. No squirt guns, no ray guns, no
Then one morning, peace-loving mama serves up a slice of
wholegrain toast to her peace-loving son only to discover that he's
chewed his bread into the shape of a pistol.
P-sheew P-sheew, comes the sound effect, followed by the inevitable punch line: "You're dead."
You can run, peaceful parent, but you can't hide from the toast gun.
The bang bang gene
It's not always toast, of course. Parents report that their kids have
fashioned firearms out of sticks, stuffed animals and showerheads. One
parent on the website Offsprung reports that one boy made a gun out of
a Jesus figurine swiped from the Christmas nativity scene.
The props change, but one thing is almost always the same: boys pull the trigger.
Many parents, particularly moms, greet such scenes with shock, or at least anxiety.
Particularly in a time of wars overseas and violence on the
streets, questions linger: how do such violent urges spring from
innocent children, especially those whose media exposure is limited to
public television shows featuring nubby-textured puppets resolving
conflicts with understanding and hugs?
Does prohibiting gunplay actually encourage it? Are boys who
play with guns destined to grow up to be soldiers, hunters or hit men?
To arm or not to arm? That is the question.
In short, what is it with boys and guns? The subject has been a hot
topic among parents and educators for at least 30 years. Child
development experts tell us that yes, boys are more likely to play with
guns than girls but no, there's no proven link between gunplay and
Even so, they report that children under 9 have a harder time
understanding the difference between play and real guns; given that,
most experts agree that it's best to keep toy guns away from kids.
Many educators, even those far outside peace-loving progressive circles, prohibit toy weapons at school.
I myself was raised with a strict gun control policy by a
fiercely pacifist mom. Our living room was decorated with that
ubiquitous poster of the crayon sunflower and the slogan, "War is not
healthy for children and other living things."
Still, I loved to play shoot-'m-up. Then one day I was caught
running around the front yard gunning down armies of invisible Storm
Troopers with a sprinkler attachment.
"What, this?"I sputtered. "Oh mom, this is a peace gun. I'm shooting peace rays."
How quaint that all sounds now. A quick walk down the aisle of
the local toy emporium proves how far removed peace-loving families are
from the mainstream of today. The "boys section" overflows with laser
blasters, paintball sets and secret agent pistols. Exquisitely molded
action figures sport ammo belts and bazookas. Super Soakers promise to
pack as much liquid firepower as ICBMs.
Parents still aren't listening
Whatever experts say about kids and guns, parents clearly aren't listening.
How could they? Their protests are drowned out by the constant
din of pretend gunfire. Whether it's an unconscious manifestation of
anatomy, a function of male hormones or simply a handy way for boys to
exert power, there's clearly something deep-seated, even natural, about
the bond between boy and gun.
Of course that doesn't mean we should arm our kids. As far as
I'm concerned, parents who dress their 8-year-olds in camouflage and
give them realistic toy Uzis should be strapped down and forced to
listen to Yoko Ono records until the next Age of Aquarius.
At the same time, outright bans on gunplay are foolish at
best and may even backfire, producing an even more intense attachment
to the forbidden pleasure of shooting stuff.
I myself managed to grow up a mostly peaceful fellow, even if
I still get a weirdly intense thrill from the occasional game of laser
tag or "Medal of Honour."
All of which puts in me an uncomfortable position with my own
two young sons, who unsurprisingly, love to run around the house
blasting each other with make-believe weaponry. I've made it a point to
sit them down and explain how real-life guns can do irrevocable
When the combat starts, I do wish they'd go work on a jigsaw puzzle or build a sofa fort.
But I get it. I too was born with the bang-bang gene. So when
they shoot me with the toast gun, I know the drill: save the
explanations, grab the bloody wound and fall to the ground.