toy gun control.

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.)


52 thoughts on “toy gun control.

  1. Dave says:

    That’s a tough call; I was raised under the fourth option and turned out ok.
    Both of my kids are girls so not as much of a problem, they have no real interest in toy guns.
    But at 8 and 11, they both know how to shoot (heavily supervised) and get drilled in firearms safety regularly.
    I think if they had a desire for toy guns I would most likely go with option three.

  2. princewally says:

    Directed interest is the way we’ve gone. When my son was old enough to understand, he lost guns(hundreds of pieces) for shooting us.

    My daughter(2) only shoot monsters. Every time I see her shooting a toy gun it’s “I’m shooting monsters, Dad, not people.”

    Of course, now that my son is older, he plays war with his friends. It’s usually still against invisible bad guys, but not always.

    He does keep his finger off of the trigger with his toy guns.

  3. Jay G. says:


    Directed interest is DEFINITELY the way to go. That’s what I’ve done with TheBoy, and it’s turned out great.

    You get a chance to drill the Four Rules into their heads until they know them in their sleep. They learn safe and proper gun handling. Most importantly, IMHO, they learn that guns are not objects to be feared, but tools with which one must exercise care and caution.

    No fear.
    No sweeping under the rug.
    Just “Here it is. Here’s how you handle it responsibly. Any infractions and it gets taken away”.

    Trust me on this one. Once you’ve relieved Quinn of his favorite Nerf gun, Star Wars blaster, or cap gun for the nth time, he will rapidly equate “pointing gun at Lyra” with “gun goes bye-bye”…

    And I’ll close with this shot:

    Notice the placement of TheBoy’s trigger finger…

  4. Matt says:

    I was raised under a mix of the 2nd and 4th options simply because how do you draw the line at squirt guns? Apparently a gun shaped item that fired water and hit someone was ok but an actual toy gun the made sounds or fired caps was a no-no.

    It worked out fine in the end. Bear in mind I was raised in Canada so the idea of teaching gun safety to me as a child was not even a consideration. Gun ownership was (and is) heavily regulated and my family knew no one who owned a gun. I learned gun safety at the hands of the Canadian Forces as a Air Cadet as a teenager.

    Personally, I would probably go with the fourth option since until a child is old enough to grasp the difference between pretend and real, it is mostly pointless to try and explain the difference between toy guns and the real thing. When they are old enough, the lessons should sink in properly. The use of a watermelon in demonstrating what happens when you use Dad’s guns can go a long way for instilling the proper respect.

    I am not a parent so take my words with a grain of salt. Kids will be kids in my opinion and my job is to prepare them for the world, not hide them from it.

  5. Mr Fixit says:

    I have 3 sons, aged 20, 13, and 10. I’ve had guns in the house and they have been ‘exposed’ to them all their lives. It’s still tough.

    Personally what worked for us was believing that boys will be boys, and directing that where we could.

    We believed that our boys were smart enough to know the difference between toys and real guns. Toy guns were never discouraged, except that we told them not to point them at people. For the most part we let them play however they wanted.

    But there are issues. What about water guns? They’re meant to be shot at people? Those we let them shoot at people. Laser blaster bright orange with electronic action plasma rifles? We let them shoot at each other too, with a reminder that you don’t shoot ‘real’ guns at people. Dart, or any type of projectile guns? We made sure they never shot those at people, even without the darts or projectiles in them.

    Basically, the more ‘real’ the gun, the less they were allowed to do with it.

    They were all smart, and learned well.

    Don’t underestimate kids ability to tell play from real.

    Mr Fixit

  6. Robert says:

    Caveat: I have no kids…

    I’d say the best option would be a combo of the third and fourth. I would say third is the only option, but then you get into the problem with water guns and the like.

    My mom wanted rule number one, but even she noticed at a young age, every stick and toy plane could be made a gun. She finally caved, and let my father go and buy my a powder blue toy Uzi.

  7. Kristi says:

    My eldest is four as well, and we’ve gone through the gun thing a few times too. It actually STARTED because one of our friends tries to follow the “total prohibition” method with their son (who is a year older), and guess what? IT DOESN’T WORK. (big surprise!) But anyway, they made a big deal out of some pretend finger-gun play at our place once and my son of course picked it up. I guess I fall somewhere in the ‘combo’ section because we haven’t bought him toy guns…wait, that’s a lie. We do have ‘water guns’, but I don’t count those, really. Anyway, we don’t buy him toy guns because I don’t necessarily want to encourage him into thinking that guns are a toy. But some of his smaller toys have come with little guns (like some of the Playmobiles, for instance), and I recognize that he’s going to play gun-games anyway, and he does, and we don’t freak out about it. Whenever it comes up, we do our best to teach him about proper gun safety, care and handling, but we don’t make a big deal out of safe play and monster-fighting. So far it seems to be working pretty well and we haven’t had any human ‘casualties’ yet, and he doesn’t point his guns (finger or miniature or otherwise) at people. But his “total prohibition” buddy? Still does.

  8. I don’t have kids, but I knew a family down the street in one of the towns I lived that went the “total prohibition” route.

    When the eldest boy reached the age of 18, he bought a toy gun and he bought a handgun when he reached 21.

  9. Rob K says:

    Almost total acceptance. Play is how kids learn about and practice for the real world. It’s how I grew up. My kids are never allowed to pretend to shoot their mother, and they’re never allowed to pretend to shoot anyone when they’re angry. That gets a quick punishment. They’re only allowed to pretend shoot people in the context of a game. Interestingly, they don’t often divide into sides and shoot at each other. They’re almost always shooting at imaginary bad guys/monsters/dinosaurs.

    They’ve also all seen me dispatch trapped racoons and `possums too, so they know what real guns will do.

  10. I suspect it’s genetic, that boys have this predilection to defend their house, home, tribe or nation. My grandson is nine, and his mom initially didn’t want any part of him getting involved with guns. But he would make guns out of his fingers, or any other pointy object, like a twig from a tree or a pencil. The imagination is a powerful thing.

    We had the opportunity as grandparents to raise him for a few years, and chose method #4. So that now he know the basics of gun safety (always assume they’re loaded, never point them at anyone, etc.) and him and I go shooting out on BLM land, northwest of town, or at the range. We practice range safety even when not at the range, and he treats guns with respect, like any tool one would use.


  11. T.Stahl says:

    Option 3, Directed Interest, looks good for me.

    toy gun > rubber gun > air rifle > single shot .22lr

  12. mac says:

    We started out not letting the boys have toy guns at all, and strictly limiting the shows that featured guns. Then they started pre-school. After my youngest was in school a year, he started making guns out of anything. His sister’s flower ring was a gun. A spoon was a gun. It got ridiculous.

    Then we started allowing them to own toy guns, but only things that were either historical (cowboy era an prior) or clearly sci-fi (most squirt and nerf guns fall here). I even made a few out of wood.

    The boys often play against each other, and that’s OK, so long as they’re both playing. It’s also OK for them to point a gun at their sister, if she’s in the game. We do come down hard on them if they point a gun at someone not in the game. So it’s mostly #4, with some caveats.

    Boys are fascinated by guns. There honestly seems to be something genetic about it. You cannot keep them in a bubble, and they’ll find a way to imagine them on their own.

    We tried to direct their interest a bit. We have encouraged their interest in history, including military history. At seven and nine, they can identify and explain the basic workings of muskets, Kentucky Rifles, percussion-cap firearms, single-action revolvers, the Thompson submachine gun, bolt-action rifles, the M1 Garand, M79 grenade launcher, and M203 grenade launcher.

    We’re careful to give them context for the shows we let them watch. We let them watch some shows on the Military and History channels. It’s important for them to understand that real guns a made to destroy and real war is not fun. So far, I think we’ve done a decent job.

  13. Sarah says:

    The issue isn’t that kids don’t know the difference between real and pretend. The issue is that a lot of people fear that encouraging/ tolerating pretend play about disturbing things can be seen as subtle approval of the real thing. Just like you’d (I hope) discourage your kids from casually throwing domestic abuse in when they’re playing house (“Remember to tell the doctor you tripped on the stairs!”) or imitating gang rape.

    That said, I’m not militant about toy gun control because I think making a big deal about it causes more harm than the play itself. I stop the game if anyone playing doesn’t seem to be 100% on board.
    In the case of my family, my kids did not see any media with guns being used in them until they were old enough to understand the very real consequences of real guns. (Around 7 in my son’s case; my 4-year-old still has not.) That makes more sense to me than exposing kids to things they don’t understand. There’s a book out (Who’s Calling the Shots?: How to Respond Effectively to Children’s Fascination With War Play and War Toys by Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Diane E. Levin) which talks a lot about how one of the big problems with war play these days is that a lot of kids are basically re-enacting other people’s stories from TV instead of using guns as part of their own imaginative play; interesting argument.

  14. MarkHB says:

    Well, the total prohibition and partial prohibition routes are Just Plain Silly, so I’m not even gonna look sideways at ’em.

    The “All Guns Are Real Guns” route could really kill all the fun of waterpistols/supersoakers/suckerdart guns/nerf guns. Let’s be honest – those things are only really fun when the participants are blasting away at each other laughing like drains, especially as you’ve got the ground area to have really good squirt-gun fights.

    I know Quinn’s a sharp kid, so I think he can grok the difference between water/rubber/foam and more intractable objects even at Kid Age, but I heartily second Matt’s comment regarding the sacrifice of a watermelon to prove the difference. Quinn sure seems to be a gentle soul, so I can really imagine that lesson having the necessary impact.

    Gun safety is absolutely paramount, but being a kid should be fun – let’s face it, life gets awfully serious awfully fast without any help. There’s a huge difference between brightly-coloured plastic things and the very serious pieces of engineering you have for self-determination.

    ‘Course, I have enough trouble raising my own childish ass let alone trying to raise a kid of my own, so here’s a big chunk of salt to go with my commentary.

  15. I was raised in the “total acceptance” mode.
    I’ve shot/been “play” shot a zillion times in my yute, & haven’t shot at anyone with a real gun yet. How you gonna play Screamin’ Joe Commando from the Frozen Korean Wasteland if you can’t shoot at the enemy?
    Play is one thing; firearms (including BB guns) are another.
    The important step is in teaching the difference.

  16. Bill says:

    I’m afraid Squirt guns are in their own catagory, kinda like crew served, for pointing purposes. We allowed them and no other toy guns. We allowed both of the kids to touch, see, hold and point the real ones with proper safety instruction from the time they were capable of picking them up. It kept me informed of their abilities and allowed me to adjust for them. No NDs or other nasty incidences and now they are both expert marksmen in their respective services. Just takes time to do it right, you seem to take it so go from there. Bill

  17. Will says:

    I guess our method is a mix. “Toys are toys, guns are real and not toys!”
    Our 7 year old got his first guns for Christmas last year, a single shot .410 and a single shot 22.
    He opened the box, got to say WOW and then was handed a copy of four rules and the guns went away until he could say them to us on demand.
    So far he has done well, even his play guns have been pointed at others a lot less.
    Responsible Adult supervision is the main key, I think.

  18. Bill Nance says:

    The rules I followed with my daughter are as follows:

    1. Do not, under any circumstances make your guns “forbidden fruit.”

    Once you’ve taught them the basics of gun safety, have them help you clean them, let them hold them (Obviously under close supervision) etc. Make it clear they can see them at anytime they wish, but they have to ask and you have to get them for them and be there to supervise.
    Remember that kids are curious little buggers and the more you forbid something the more they’ll want to play with/look at it.

    2. (Caveat: I waited until my daughter was 7 for this)
    Take the kid to the range with you, take the gun with biggest caliber, a gallon milk jug of water and some red food coloring. Set it out and shoot it while the kid watches it explode. Explain that is what would happen if a PERSON got shot with it and then go over gun safety again. I guarantee you the kid will not be scarred for life, but a visual demonstration is a lot more potent than words to younger kids. They will never forget this.

    As to toy guns, IMO, Buy water guns. They can point those at each other all day long. They don’t look like “real” guns anyway. And yes, fighting little boys’ urges to play war or cops and robbers is a futile effort. But I wouldn’t buy toy guns that actually LOOK like real guns.

    Finally, get the kid a bb-gun to use under your supervision. He’ll have more fun with that than a toy anyway and you can drill the rules of gun safety. Give the kid credit, even a 6 year-old can tell the difference between a water pistol and a firearm if you explain it.


  19. Brandon says:

    I have three kids aged 10, 6, and 4. The older two are girls, leaving the shock-and-awe of a male child for last, right when we thought we had the parenting thing figured out fairly well.

    All three children have been exposed to real firearms and know, as far as they’re each developmentally able, the difference between toys and guns. My oldest enjoys shooting and is quite capable with her Cricket and my Ruger 22/45. The six-year-old hasn’t shown much particular interest thus far, but that may change after her first range trip.

    With the boy, we’re somewhere in between Directed Interest and Total Acceptance. He has the little Nerf dart guns, and we’ve been known to shoot them at one another on occasion. However, whenever he’s exposed to a real firearm, the point is always made regarding the differences between toys and guns. It’s a steady shift toward Directed Interest the older he gets (and thus able to understand).

    There are still hard-and-fast rules, however. For example, pointing a Nerf dart gun at someone’s head results in immediate confiscation (no face/eye shots, please), as do surprise dartings.

    For me, the active word in the phrase “toy gun” is “toy,” and that’s the current emphasis in our household. My approach thus far has been that toy guns are toys that must still be used properly and safely; guns are grownup power tools that can kill and are not to be touched without direct adult supervision.

  20. Rick in NY says:

    My kids, all three of ’em, skipped the toy gun stage completely, went right to airguns and 22s. Same as me when I grew up. My reason is the same one my father applied.

    “There is no such thing as a toy gun.”

    Either it’s a toy and you play with it however you want, or it’s a gun and you respect it as such. Even if the “gun” in question is made from plastic or even wood, you need to treat it like a genuine firearm.

    Can they be used as a training tool? Yes. Do I use one with my kids? Not a chance. Because I have drilled into them the big 4, starting with unloaded/uncharged airguns and working up from there. There is no temptation for them to think “this is only a toy.”

    Prime example, my younger daughter was with me at Bass Pro last summer looking at the rifle selection. She saw a bright pink Crickett 22 and asked if she could see it. I waved over a sales dweeb, asked for said rifle. Sales dweeb never checked the chamber! He hands it to me, I check the chamber (empty) then I hand it to my daughter. Sales dweeb begins to spit and sputter as my then seven year old daughter controls the muzzle and checks the chamber herself. She looks around, locates a safe direction, (towards the counter, but well to the dweebs left) mounts it to her shoulder. Yes, she liked it a lot, but she never laid her finger on the trigger. When done, she handed it back to me, I checked the chamber again, (hey, it was out of my hands, so I check it again) and I gave it back to the sales dweeb.

    Yes, she, at seven, is safer than most adults you find at public ranges. I believe it is, at least in part, because guns and toys are two seperate entities in her mind. Toys are for playtime, guns are serious business.

  21. perlhaqr says:

    Somewhere between three and four.

    Essentially, give him four, but try to enforce three, and get more and more serious about it as time goes by.

    I can only imagine hearing “finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire” from the age of four to be a good thing.

  22. Sigboy40 says:

    I was raised without any toy guns in the house. My fathers logic was that I can have a toy gun when I was old enough to know the difference. When I was old enough, I had real guns, so what did I need a toy gun for?
    I was always allowed to ‘make’ toy guns, that was over looked. I even made my own rubber band guns around ten. Amazingly, I was allowed to have rubber band wars as long as I used the proper safety equipment.
    I am a grown man now, with children of my own, my son just turned six, and is not allowed to have toy guns, imaginary guns and squirt guns are overlooked. Both my children know the four rules, and know not to touch a firearm without supervision. They shoulder rifles, dry fire pistols, and practice getting a proper sight picture.
    Lately I have been considering changing the rules to allow toy guns under the presumption that they are just toys, I also don’t know how far to take it.

  23. The Other Jay says:

    Directed Interest worked well with both my son and daughter.

    I am also a Boy Scout leader. We teach basic firearms safety (and Archery Safety, Knife and Axe Safety, Fire Safety….) as part of several activities with the Scouts.

    It is very easy to tell which Scouts have had basic “socialization” with firearms versus those who grew up with the “Guns Are Evil” approach. Never having played with something that actually was a toy gun, the second group tend to need to be watched very closely, as they want very much to “play” with the real things. Not good, to say the least.

    My son (at 7) lost his Cowboy Colt cap gun for a month for pointing it at me once, and then lost it again (at 8) for a month for leaving it where his little sister could get to it. There have been no significant lapses with either real or mock firearms since, and he took pains to carefully instruct my daughter in proper trigger-finger placement. THAT was cute.


  24. sasu says:

    I just read an interview of a leading child psychologist. He said that it is essential for children to play role games and through them learn to understand and control their feelings. The psychologist says gun and war games and other safe reenactments of aggressive behavior are necessary for emotional development.

  25. Mopar says:

    I grew up with mainly 3, with a little bit of 4 (for some reason, like others have said, water guns were the exception to #3). That was fun as a kid, but even then I remembered thinking why did I lose my cap gun/bb gun/bow (yes, I lost all 3 as a kid, heh) for pointing at my sister when shooting her with the squirt gun was ok? With my stepson we’ve gone somewhat stricter with #3. He lost a few squirt guns when he was younger for shooting the cats with them, but we let slide the sortakinda gun-shaped twigs being used to play “war”. He’s 12 now and he still has to recite and explain the 4+1 rules to us each time before he can handle his air rifle or a firearm. (we added the 5th rule; “never try to catch a gun if you drop it” when he started shooting handguns)

  26. Dr. Feelgood says:

    My oldest is four and right now we fall somewhere between directed interest and total acceptance, with the caveat that we don’t own toy guns besides the water pistols. I’m not opposed to toys, but like MW I don’t want to cultivate an anything-goes approach to firearms. As they get older my kids will move closer toward directed interest, and the toys and their use will grow increasingly realistic. Projectiles (excluding Nerf) will be withheld until they’re capable of reciting the four rules from rote.

    Right now I allow playtime to proceed as the kids see fit with normal supervision to make sure no one gets hurt. When they use pretend guns I ask them afterward why they made a particular choice (shoot/don’t shoot). The boys are 2 and 3 so the depth of their response is, “Because he was a bad/good guy.” I try to mold their decision making by encouraging them to think about how a bad/good guy behaves and how someone should respond in each case. There’s always some nuance of defense ethics to analyze in their play. Guns may be off limits until they get bigger, but moral values surrounding self-defense and armed combat are always available for transmission.

    It occurs to me that this extends into other arenas of play, too. I’m thinking especially about video games. I haven’t defined my scope for those, yet, since the kids are too small. I will probably enforce the same values, with confiscatory penalties for transgressions.

  27. Gerry N. says:

    total disenterest. I had capguns, rubber band guns as early as I can remember, my dad, grandads and uncles always carried sidearms and had long guns in their pickups and cars. I knew the difference between reality and play early on, still do.

    Libs seem to be incapable of that differentiation. In my childhood, I killed half of the Japanese Imperial and NAZI Armies and most of North America’s hostile Indians by myself. I also cleared our part of Western So. Dak. of criminals, especially rustlers and horse thieves. John Wayne and Roy Rogers helped a little.

    I got my first real gun, a single shot .22 rifle on my eighth birthday. I have yet to experience my first unintended, or innapropriate discharge. I’m approaching my 65th birthday.

    My son also got his first real gun at the age of 8. He already had a battery of cap, squirt, and BB guns. He turned out fine, too.

    People, get a grip, they’re TOY guns, after all. If a kid can’t tell the difference between real and play, he needs new parents, not more supervision.

    Gerry N.

  28. LabRat says:

    I was brought up in the “total acceptance” camp too. Yeah, I was a little girl and not a little boy, but I was also a tomboy and always very much more interested in playing with “weapons” rather than dolls. My dad never gave the four rules/safety lectures (though he did keep his successfully locked and hidden from me), but I always understood the difference between real and toy knives and guns and there was simply never an issue.

    If I were to reproduce myself, I’d probably go with a mix of 3 and 4 and what a few commenters have already suggested- treat it on a continuum of seriousness depending on how close it is to a “real” gun, and no pointing at living things outside the context of a game everyone’s agreed to.

  29. Kristopher says:

    Hmmm. We had toy gunfights all the time when I was growing up, escalating to plastic disc-launchers that we promptly filled with pennies. Spending the ammo on bublegum was always a problem.

    Later on we would shoot at each other at long range with Daisy BB-guns.

    It was a miracle that no one in our family ever lost an eye.

    There wern’t much in the way of rules in our family, except for being threatened with holy hell if we messed with the sporterized Springfield .30-06 in the closet.

  30. Larry says:

    Weak prohibition for the next couple of years. He’s just playing and the result of strong prohibition is that you will teach him to hide behavior from you.

    Work on responsbility at age six or so.

  31. there are no universal rules to this or any of the other important lessons of life, mw…children learn by example, and pick up on the nuances of real and pretend, serious and playful, empathetic and cold-hearted, love and hatred, etc. far beyond what we think their tender age and psyche are capable of.

    would that all children could be so fortunate as to take their cues from two loving, monogamous parents including one who spends fulltime seeing after all of their physical, emotional, and behavioral needs…even when he’s not actively aware of it. the kids at the munchkin wrangler ranch will be just fine, no owner’s manual required.


  32. Cathy Peschke says:

    Frankly I am surprised that he already does not have toy guns. Real surprised, even astounded perhaps.

  33. Jeff says:

    I’m not a parent, so take this with a large grain of salt. I would enforce the safety rules with anything that looks real, and be lax about finger guns, squirt guns, and nerf but only in the context of an agreed game. I wouldn’t allow realistic looking squirt guns.

    My parents didn’t own guns. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted with my squirt guns and various toy guns. My father had a BB gun and we’d occasionally shoot cans with it in the backyard. I would have never even considered touching it without him there.

  34. Baker Mike Romeo says:

    I know using my own childhood as anecdotal evidence is kind of stupid, but here goes:

    I had an _insane_ battery of toy guns when I was a kid. I destroyed like four of those brown-and-black-plastic AK-47 + 1911 kits that they sold back in the day, I had a little blue mattel M16 and Tec-9 combo, nerf guns as far as the eye could see, super soakers for days, laser tag guns, Super Survivor Shot, and so on and so on, and the worst injuries I ever received as a kid were when a friend and I got bored of our toy guns, and built stickforts and hid behind them and hucked rocks at each other’s forts until one hit me upside the head.

    That said, I also got my grandfather’s BB-gun when I was 10 or 11 or so, and my parents were always rigorous about my not shooting it without supervision, and being safe with it. I got my first rifle at 14, first shotgun at 15, and so on.

    I think that using toy guns may have given me some stupid ideas about how shooting guns actually works, but I don’t think that I ever had any trouble transitioning from one to the other.

    On the other hand, I assume that you’re (Marko) going to be teaching your son to shoot at a much younger age than that at which I learned, so the new wrinkle is that he’ll actually be learning about real firearms while he might still be interested in playing with toy ones. Hm.

  35. Antibubba says:

    Here’s what you need to do: When the child asks for a gun just like Daddy’s (or Mommy’s), tell them “yes”, but that he has to get it at the “toy gunstore”. This involves finding the blowhard neighborhood kid who always tells lies, and that child will have to be ignored for 30 minutes before being acknowledged. When child finds the gun he likes, he then has to listen to blowhard tell him what a terrible choice he’s made, and how the toy gun costing over three times his monthly allowance is the Best Toy Gun Ever.

    Then he can just walk away and get it at Wal-Mart for a third of the price and no hassle.

    Every child should get to experience these gun dangers early, so that when they go to buy their first real gun they are not traumatized.

  36. Ken says:

    Directed interest. Don’t forget to teach him to say “Pew pew pew.” 😉

  37. Sennin says:

    I started my daughter at three with “helping Daddy clean guns.” By the time she was five she could safely strip, clean, lubricate, and re-assemble any handgun, shotgun, or rifle in the house (under supervision). Also, by five, she was bored with the process: “You made ’em dirty; You clean ’em!” she’d say to me.

    At seven, she got her first rifle, a Chipmunk .22 and was complemented by the Range Master on her shooting, handling and safety skills.

    At 12, she got a Winchester 9422 which she really loves because she’s left handed and left eye dominant.

    At 16 she got her first defensive caliber handgun.

    Now, at 20 (going on 45) she’s looking forward to getting her CCW.

    Did we encourage her interest? No, we just made sure she was safe. The interest (or lack of, at times) was entirely self generated.

    She’s not-at-all interested in toy guns because she has real ones to shoot and maintain. Not even squirt guns because water hoses “shoot” farther and with more “soak power” than the Super Soakers.

    Total Acceptance, with training, has worked for us.

  38. MarkHB says:

    Thank you, Marko. Because of this thread, my attention wandered and I’ve been photoshopping “My Little Claymore” and “Boy’s First Foogas” product packaging.

  39. Rick R. says:

    The Squirrel Girl (3.5 years) went “to the range” (rural neighbor’s yard) a couple of months ago and watched us go shooting with a variety of hardware. She even got into the game with the neighbor’s childrens BB guns (tucked under the arm, becuase the length of pull was too long). All standard range safety rules followed, and an adult maintained physical control over any gun she touched (even the BB guns), just in case her muzzle wandered.

    When we got home, she announced to her mother, “For my 4th birthday, I want a gun.”

    I chuckled, thought a second, and said, “Well, maybe I can find a Nerf gun or something. . . ”

    “No, I want a HANDGUN. Like Mommy’s. One that puts holes in paper.”

    Long story short, when she asks, we go to the gun closet, and pull out her training gun — a plastic Airsoft Glock.

    We then set up a range in the living room and shoot at an aluminum pie tin hanging off her rocking horse. She clears the range (“Weady on the right!” {looks} “Ready on the weft!” {looks} “Weady in the center!” {looks downrange}
    “The wange is WEADY!” — only then do we load the pistol)

    I still have to lightly hold the pistol (she can’t hold the gun firmly AND squeeze the trigger. . . her hands are too small), and we’re working on the concept of sight alignment, but steady hold and trigger control are right on.

    Between magazines, I call a cease fire, and she goes and plices up the plastic BBs. If her mother wanders anywhere nearby during this process, Squirrel Girl solemnly informs her to stay out of the way so she won’t get hurt when we start shooting again.

    Note that the Airsoft is treated as a GUN, not a toy.

    Meanwhile, I ran out to teh dollar store and picked up a cowboy kit, including a scaled down Peacemaker “clicky-gun”. This is NOT a “gun”, and gets used (and stored) as a “toy”. And she may only “pretend shoot” people who have agreed to “play shoot” with her at that time. “Mommy, Daddy, may I pretend shoot you until bathtime?”

    No safety violations yet, except I occaisionally have to remind her that, even though we have stopped shooting and the gun is lying on the ground, she may NOT go forward of the line to collect BBs until I actually say “Cease fire”.

    If she keeps up this level of behavior (among others), she will get a real BB gun for her birthday — probably a pistol with the smallest grip I can find. I occaisionally remind her, “Only responsible girls get handguns,” which works like a charm when she’s asked to do something.

    Work for everyone? Probably not — but my daughter takes more after her mother at that age than her father. Of course, my parents were pretty casual (although Dad was Hell on pointing, even squirt guns, outside of carefully delinieated and totally consensual toy “gun fights”. . . pointing a toy gun — even a squirt gun or stick — at my father without his prior consent resulted in immediate destruction of the gun, and fingers that smarted from where he backhanded the gun out of your hands).

  40. MarkHB says:

    *scribble scribble*
    Thousand Yard Stare Bear….

  41. Rick R. says:

    “Mac the FAC* , the Bluebird of Happiness”

    * Forward Air Controller

  42. MarkHB says:

    “Arclight, Arclight, First Star I See Tonight….”

  43. Rick R. says:

    The first lullabye I used with my daughter was,

    “Go to sleep, go to sleep,
    Or the dingos will eat you.

    Go to sleep, baby girl,
    Before the vampires come to bite.

    Go to sleep, little one,
    So the werewolves won’t find you.”

    Once she showed language skills, I stopped it. But the looks I would get from busy bodies. . .

  44. MarkHB says:

    “This little piggie ran the markets,
    This little piggie hired thugs.
    This little piggie did book-keeping,
    And this little piggie ran drugs.
    And this little piggie… went to sleep wit’da fishes”

    Again, with the looks I get.

  45. Tony says:

    Eh. From my point of view, seems to me that most of you are making a big deal out of nothing. When I was a kid I had a whole bunch of toy guns (including this really nifty and realistic feeling cap gun lever rifle – man that was a cool gun 🙂 ) and I always had at least one of them with me wherever I went. Nobody bothered trying to teach me the four rules or anything like that. Now I’m a grownup (or should that be “grownup” with quotation marks? 🙂 ) with depressingly few real firearms (no, I don’t have a lever action carbine, damnit!) and I instinctively handle things like pressurised air canisters, Airsoft guns, power drills or toy guns very, very carefully with continuous muzzle (or “muzzle”, as the case may be) awareness and trigger finger indexed along the side. Seems to have worked out for me quite well. The only problem I have when it comes to firearms is that I often feel other shooters are not safety-conscientious enough (lack of proper eye protection is my most common aggravation).

    I say let the boys play. When a child is old enough to learn real firearms they should have developed an understanding of the difference between “play” and “for real”.

  46. Desertrat says:

    One of the more scary things in hunt camp is a 24-year-old with his first rifle on his first hunt.

    My friends and I never had a moment’s difficulty in knowing the difference between toys–as in cap guns–and real guns–as in Daisy Red Ryders and .22 rifles.

    We played James Gang and Dalton Brothers and killed each other a gazillion times with cap pistols. We never, ever pointed BB guns at anybody; those were for shooting at lead soldiers or chee-chee birds. .22s were “for real, sure enough” and were used on squirrels and rabbits.

    About the only instruction I can recall now, some near70 years later, was, “Be careful, now,” or, “Don’t shoot a cow.”

    My own kid? I just made sure there was no mystique, no thrill of the illicit about real guns. Piece of cake.


  47. Jay G. says:

    Happy Father’s Day, Marko.

  48. Regolith says:

    Quite frankly, I think a lot of people really over think this issue. Unless your kid has a serious case of teh stupids or some kind of mental disorder, they should be able to grasp the difference between play and reality. Simply explain to them the difference between real guns and toy guns, and what the consequences of screwing around with real guns are and drill that into them, and you shouldn’t have a problem.

  49. […] Marko ponders toy gun control: I know there are parents out there who refuse to buy toy guns for their […]

  50. Daniel says:

    When I got married in 1981 I was a long-haired liberal pacifist. When my first son was born 21 months later we just “knew” we would never have toy guns. Guess what? Kids make toy guns (and knives, swords, spears) out of anything remotely suitable. We gave in and bought squirt guns. By 1993 I had long repented of voting for Jimmy Carter (still doing penance for that). I had become a conservative (Reagan) and a gun owner (Clinton) — oh, and we have fire extinguishers in the house now, too. My family is so gun-safety conscious my children even instruct their friends and cousins about the safety rules: “Hey, watch your muzzle there! Only point that at the bad guys!” (Residue of my upbringing?) I have found that when the play has been “safety” conscious, the transition to real safety on the range or in the field is second-nature.

  51. I heard about your appearance on Cam and Company this evening and wanted to read your blog posting, because I have a 3 year old boy who has recently discovered the existance of guns.

    I have always been around guns and I want my children to grow up respecting firearms (and other peoples rights to have them).

    I think I will be employing 3 and 4. I will atttempt to direct his interactions with his toy guns, but I will also overlook some of his slip-ups …

    I will try to enforce the rules a little more each year and when he is 7 or 8, I want to introduce him to real firearms. I hope by then I will have instilled enough understanding between a toy and a real firearm.

    Thanks for the insight.


  52. Lois Hulvey says:

    I was surfing around to find more information on this topic this afternoon when I came upon your really informative blog post…thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts. I will definitely be checking up on your blog and coming back for more.BTW how long have you been blogging? 🙂

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