Of Sons and Guns

Do you allow your son (or daughter) to play with cap guns or other plastic toy guns?

 My childhood was happy and traditional, a typical suburban upbringing in the 1970s and ‘80s on the south shore of Long Island in New York. Most of my free time was spent with siblings and friends outside in the neighborhood. We did what typical kids did of that era.

We played football every fall, basketball in the driveway throughout the cold winter and baseball come spring, just as soon as the snow melted off the lawn.

In between we played the harmless games kids play. We rode our bikes, played tag and hide-and-seek, and tinkered in the garage. We especially enjoyed building go-carts, if we were lucky enough to garbage pick some old lawn mower wheels on trash day.

We also played with guns.

 Cap guns and plastic air rifles, water pistols, Nerf shooters, even fake bazookas.

We loved playing “cops and robbers.” I presume that I preferred being the “cop,” but I can’t say as I remember negotiating for the role. After all, it was all just pretend.

I can still smell the aroma of a fired red roll of caps. We used to shoot chunks of old pears in the air rifle at targets and sometimes, I have to admit, at big delivery trucks that rumbled down our street. With our water pistols we’d ambush our friends in the bushes beside the porch. We challenged each other to duels.

Despite all this activity, nobody ever got in trouble. None of my friends grew up to be criminals or came to struggle with an unhealthy fascination with guns. For us, it was just fun. No harm. No foul.

But a few weeks ago, on the night of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, our two-and-a-half-year-old son greeted me at the back door with a big smile and a hearty laugh. Raising his right arm, he made a pretend gun with his little thumb and index finger. “Bang! Bang!” he hollered happily, adding, “Just joke, Daddy!” and scampered off.

Having consumed the news of the day, and having a heavy heart over it all, his innocent act jolted me. Of course little Will knew nothing of the shooting and couldn’t even comprehend it if he did. He doesn’t play video games. He doesn’t watch movies or anything beyond Thomas the Train or What’s in the Bible? DVDs.

But he’s a boy. And boys like to knock things over and blow things up. It seems that boys are drawn to toy guns the way girls gravitate to dolls and all things pretty. In fact, Dr. James Dobson, Focus’ founder, once suggested that you could have a boy who’s never had a toy gun and he’d eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into the shape of a pistol.

Setting aside your perspective on the politics and practical application and administration of Second Amendment rights, how do you handle or manage your child’s interest in toy guns?

Do you let your child play with them – or do you try and engage their interest elsewhere?

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

I read somewhere that when boys play with their play guns, parents should teach them to be the good guys -- the ones who use the guns to protect and help. That way you teach them the value of life and the role of a man to protect. Seems like good advice to me.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

I was allowed to play with toy guns growing up while hearing the message that guns are not toys.  These are conflicting messages, plain and simple.  I'm not against guns.  I've fired guns and I've gone hunting.  I'm also thankful for the 2nd Amendment, but I believe that many Christians have a glorified view of guns.  I even see how the gun has become an idol in the United States; revered and made sacred.  Many of my closest Christian brothers seem to view their gun(s) as their most prized possessions.  

We don't allow "toy guns" in our home and they are not allowed to play 1st person shooter video games because I believe that these things go against what we are trying to teach as parents. We're not foolish about boys and imaginations though.  Our oldest son learned about guns somewhere, because before the age of 3, he was pointing his finger and saying "bang."  Our boys have made "toy guns" out of tinker toys and sticks in the yard.  We haven't tried to stop that sort of thing, but we have taught that even those guns are not to be pointed at any person, especially their brothers!  I want our boys to respect life, to hate murder, to prefer peace to violence, and to have a healthy fear of guns.  The first time they held (unloaded) firearms, they were very scared, just they way they should be.  Fear is a good place to start real education about guns.    

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Thanks to the poster who noted the fact that not all boys act like gun-loving aggressors.  My son is a gentle young lad who likes music and books and has no interest in killing or blowing things up. The world would be a lot better with more boys like him.  

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Yes they play with toy guns.  We have discouraged them from shooting at people because of the times and to learn to respect a gun as if it was loaded...even a pretend one.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

My son played with toy guns and swords and was fascinated by them like boys seem to be. When video games became the rage he would play the army and "007" games for hours. At the time I was hunting 3-4 times a year. When he was old enough his grandfather gave him his .22 single bolt rifle. We shot at targets but my son really wanted to go hunting. I was already concerned about his cavalier attitude towards shooting things and so when he was in high school he got his first real .22 rifle, scope and all and off we went to stalk the mighty squirrel. It took some practice and several years before he was successful. I had been taught that hunting was a game of skill - one shot. No need for another. If you missed, the squirrel lived another day. My son continued to play the more violent video games during this time. Then it stopped. Early one Saturday morning in the quiet of the woods he shot and killed a squirrel. It was then that the teaching moment appeared. Making certain it was dead I asked him to pick up the squirrel and hold it. He could feel the warmth of life leave it's body. It changed his perspective not only on guns, but on life and death. It was the most valuable lesson he would learn about gun safety and the responsibility that comes with our right to own and use them.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

"But he’s a boy. And boys like to knock things over and blow things up."

Um, no.  Not all boys are like that, so please don't assume that your personal experience represents the entire universe of a gender.  Let's try to avoid simple-minded stereotypes that imply that artistic or creative or quiet boys are odd.  

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

We have all girls. My husband is against us having a gun in the house. We still have toy guns, pop-gns for the girls and a nerf shooter for my husband. Some of the best fun we have is when they are hiding and running around shotting at each other.  

Being from Texas, my girls know about real guns, not to touch and that people that handle them all the time still have accidents. If we did have a gun in the house, we would teach more in depth about them and will later in their life.

Defending oneself and family is a right, guns are just a tool for that end. Should there be limits, yes. People that have criminal pasts, under certain medications and know to have psychological problems. The rest of us shouldn't be punished for the acts of others.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Nothing wrong with playing with guns. 10,000 hours in simulated soldier combat warfare between 8 and 15 could have its affects though. And not on the protection side of things but on "how do we value life?" side of our brains. The problem with violent video games is that in a tough psychological time, these guys forget what is fantasy and reality, and forget that pushing the reset on the playstation will not bring someone back to life. Add to that the fatherlessness....

Jim when you were a child, you fantasized about how to protect others (think Lone Ranger). Now our young men no longer fantasize, they habitually murder in their head thousands and thousands of times.

My belief is that guns arent bad at all and playing with them are not bad. As your article states, no boy is going to not fantasize about being a hero. What is bad is when fatherlessness and isolation and technology allows good fantasizing to turn bad.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

My boys play with water pistols even cap guns from time to time - just like I did at their age. As they grow and mature I teach them, through a state sponsored program, hunting safety. From there we learn through several means the value and responsibility  associated with personal guns and hunting rifles. It is a joy to lead them through this process.