I know there are parents out there who refuse to buy toy guns for their kids.
As a responsible gun owner, I’m of two minds on the issue. On one hand, I don’t want to encourage or even tolerate picking up the habit of unsafe gun handling. On the other hand, I don’t believe in the “pretend it doesn’t exist” prohibitionist approach to anything—guns, drugs, sex, or what-have-you—because those methods don’t work.
I got an object lesson in the futility of toy gun control the other day, when Quinn got up early from his nap, and caught a few scenes of Eight-Legged Freaks, the silly Giant Spiders movie I was watching at naptime. For the rest of the day, and the entire next day, he was reenacting those scenes, shooting imaginary giant spiders, and talking about how “the spider wanted to eat the woman, so the woman shot the spider with her gun.” He doesn’t own any toy guns, so he just used other objects as substitutes, even toys that bear no physical resemblance to any firearm, shooting the imaginary spiders with wind-up toys and Matchbox cars.
Isn’t it futile to “keep kids from playing with guns” by not buying them toy guns, if they can use any object and pretend it’s a gun? Hell, they don’t even need objects—all they need to do is to make a gun with thumb and forefinger.
Now, what’s a responsible parent to do in this case? He wants his own gun, and just yesterday, he was lamenting that he doesn’t own one. The way I see it, there are several courses of action for me at this point:
- Total Prohibition: Don’t buy any toy guns, don’t let him play with anything that resembles a gun, rigorously watch his movie intake to screen for any use of firearms, and punish him every time he pretends to be shooting at something.
- Weak prohibition: Don’t buy a toy gun, but ignore the use of other objects as “guns”, because they don’t look like guns, and because rigorously enforcing the Total Prohibition would take up most of a parent’s day.
- Directed Interest: Buy him his own toy gun, but tell him that he is not allowed to aim it at people. Teach him the basics of safe gun handling, trigger discipline, and stress that he is only to shoot pretend spiders and the like, not people. Confiscate the toy gun if he violates the rule.
- Total Acceptance: Shrug, say “boys will be boys”, get him a toy gun, and let him go to town defending the homestead from imaginary monsters.
- A combination of any of the above.
So—what’s the right thing to do for a parent who believes in the value of responsible gun ownership, the futility of prohibition measures, and the right to self-defense (even if it’s against imaginary giant spiders?) How do I reconcile my personal beliefs, the rules of gun safety, and my kid’s inability to fully understand the concepts of death and killing?
(For the record—the kid in question just turned four years old in February, and I fully intend to teach him how to handle and shoot a real gun when I consider him to be old enough to understand and internalize the basic safety rules.)