Dear Parents: Is It Time for Us to Ban Toy Guns, Too?

The modern family's dilemma

Yesterday, President Obama, flanked by beaming parents, signed a series of initiatives that will, at long last, start to push the boulder that is gun control up what’s bound to be a steep hill. Freaking finally. Cue the collective sign of the cross. He had those parents’ kids standing by, too, which I often think is something of a political calling card (see: unhinged NRA video about the not-at-all targetable Obamas), but was, in this instance, a warm, genuine gesture to the efforts at hand.

I don’t have a lot of kids in my day-to-day life, so when I got to go home over the holidays to see my younger cousins, just a couple weeks after the legislation-prompting Newtown shootings, I was surprised to see them all two inches taller and wielding… plastic rifles. (The boys, anyway. One of my girl cousins got a slick pair of One Direction-themed socks from Santa.)

If they’d been taking drags of candy cigarettes, I would have been less stunned.

After all, guns are hardly typical child-play props these days – they’ve got symbolic and political heft. We raise eyebrows at kids running around playing shoot ‘em-up games. Toy guns aren’t just part of boyhood, anymore. They’re Household Decisions.

While probing my friends and colleagues (parents and former Nerf-shooters alike) for their thoughts, everyone had a different experience or opinion. Why would a kid need a toy gun, asked one friend, whose parents had been vehemently anti-gun when he was growing up. They could make shooting noises with a stick if they wanted to. Besides, hadn’t video and computer games taken the place of Cowboys vs. Indians? More to the point, why would you actively encourage your kids to covet guns?

But more often than not, the parents I know have simply had to do some bargaining when it comes to the issue. Last spring, my colleague Victor wrote a thoughtful post about making the decision to get his son a Nerf gun, which he was allowed to shoot at immobile targets, and for a while, one rogue dog. Another dad I know instated the same rule he had growing up: shooting around with Nerf or Transformer-action-figure-type guns with friends was fine, but pointing the barrel at anyone’s face was a no-no. As we all undoubtedly know from A Christmas Story, “you can shoot your eye out.”

That same dad had parent-friends whose kids weren’t allowed to have toy guns at all. They asked if, when the boys got together to play, his son could bring over a different toy, which he and his wife were happy to oblige. Incidentally, he says, these friends are gun-owners.

I wonder if that doesn’t make the imitation just a little more real.

It seems that, even with a half billion dollars now aimed at protecting our most precious from an unregulated, perhaps too gun-crazed society, kids still just love to play with guns. I have no idea what I would do if I had kids asking for toy guns for their birthdays. I’m no gun-lover, but I’m also not a big losing battle-fighter. I think I’d end up doing what most parents seem to be doing — get the kid the damn present. Then have a good, long talk about house rules.