Toy Guns and Kids

Last week I shared my views on gun control, which can be summed up by saying I am in favour of tight controls on firearm use and ownership. I have never shot or handled a real gun. This is probably not surprising when you consider that I am a Canadian who was raised by hippies. But what may be surprising is that my personal gun ban only extends so far. In particular, I am totally okay with my kids engaging in make-believe gun play.

While we don’t have any toy guns in our house, kids are smart. They can make a gun out of almost anything. The unplugged hot glue gun they find in my craft cupboard. A piece of cardboard that was originally used to hold my new socks in the proper shape. A stick. Their own hands. When I see them pretending to shoot at each other, I leave them to their game, as long as everyone is having fun. I do this because I believe that real guns are dangerous, but gun play is not.

As a child of hippies, gun play was forbidden in my house when I was growing up. I don’t remember this being too much of an issue for me. I find it somewhat ironic, though, considering that as a child my mother was a huge fan of Dale Evans, the cowgirl. She had a full cowgirl costume and a toy gun to match. She still grew into the pacifist who refused to allow toy weapons into her home. Clearly, in her case, playing with toy guns did not lead to violence in adulthood or even a comfort with the real thing. In fact, research says that allowing kids to simulate violence does not lead to increased violence in later life.

toy gun kids play water pistol

Kids learn to understand their world through play. As a parent, I have definitely seen this. Whatever my kids are excited about, interested in or scared of comes out through their play. Gun play is no different. Violence permeates our culture. Our kids see images of guns everywhere. Allowing them to role play gives them an outlet to experiment and understand their feelings, free of serious consequences. In the process, they’re integrating the realities of life in healthy, age-appropriate ways. On the flip side, refusing to allow children to role play can have negative consequences.

Obviously, it’s important that kids understand the difference between real guns and toys. We don’t want a child to pick up and play with a real gun. We also want to make sure that toy guns kids don’t look like the real thing. This helps everyone, kids and parents and neighbours and police officers, to differentiate between safe play and a dangerous weapon. Confusion can have devastating and even deadly results. There’s a story in my own family from a couple of generations ago in which a child accidentally shot and killed her sibling. I’m not in any way advocating that kids shouldn’t understand the danger a real gun presents.

When we’re clear on the difference between guns and gun play, though, there’s no danger. And so I see no reason to forbid my children from pretending to shoot each other with my hair dryer. In time, they’ll outgrow this, just as they’ve outgrown many other games. Until then, as long as everyone’s having fun, I will be the pacifist who pretends to fall over dead when her kids point a stick at her and shout Bang!

How do you feel about gun play, or role-playing with weapons?

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  1. I have conflicting ideas about guns.

    I want my son (and daughter) to not understand guns for as long as possible, to keep them from that not so fun aspect of our culture, keep them young and “innocent”. But the other day my son came home pretending his fingers were a gun (school has widened his world a whooooole lot!). I felt a little of his innocence chip away and fall as he pew-pewed around the house, and I was sad. But… Boys will play guns, so I am told, and I reminded myself that it is my responsibility to explain what guns are, safety, and culture around them. So we had a chat, and he was very receptive to the idea that we don’t shoot people in real life, and Police Men don’t shoot bad guys all the time. Guns like his Nerf gun and his water guns are play guns, but real guns can hurt people, so we have to be very careful.

    However, Part of me is totally ok with guns, and pehaps teaching my children how to use them. I grew up in a house with hunting rifles that were loaded and in an unlocked cupboard. My life was saved by my Dad when he shot a rabid coyote on our back step, me running from it into the house while Dad grabbed the gun, quickly cocked it, and shot the slavering mad thing. If it hadn’t been right there… I don’t even want to think about it. I respected guns growing up, never, ever touched my Dad’s, and learned to shoot my own BB guns (can on a fence, y’all!) and have shot rifles and some shotguns. I eventualy went on to play paintball in tournaments all over the States, and used a “paintball gun”.

    So going to a range with my kids when they are old enough to shoot a gun and learn what that experience is like, I will likely entertain.I’d consider it part of my kid’s education into our world. In a safe, controlled environment that promotes guns as a tool for sport and marksmanship, not protection and bravado.

    Will we have guns in our house? Not likely. We live in the city, we don’t hunt. Neither my husband nor I have a desire to collect them, or shoot one.

    Besides, in Ottawa, when we have intruders, we throw marble statues at them (I have a mortar and pestle that would work). Just ask former Prime Minister Cretien! 😉
    Caroline’s last post … MessyMy Profile

  2. I, too, am a Canadian . . . and one of those hippie parents too. My first 2 kids, a boy and a girl, had no interest in guns so it was not an issue. Third kid, a boy, was the opposite, I suspect because he had friends who played with toy guns. Like your parents, I had resolved to never allow toy guns into the house but when the youngest started chewing his bread into the shape of a gun and using sticks as guns I finally relented and bought them all water pistols. My girly daughter was actually the one who took to them the most. A friend of mine pooh-poohed my squeamishness and said the toy guns were no worse than giving my daughter Barbie dolls which I had also reluctantly done after much begging on her part.

    Fast forward. The kids are all adults now, peaceful creatures with no interest whatsoever in guns. Of course, living in PEI, Canada, guns are not an issue unless you want to go duck hunting and my kids are all animal lovers so that doesn’t happen.

    As kids, my brother and I also had the cowboy/cowgirl outfits with the fake guns and we also grew up to be very peaceful people. Neither one of us has ever seen a real gun in our lives . . . and my brother lives in the States.

    Play is play . . . kids understand that and don’t carry all the baggage into it that adults do. I feel rather sorry for kids today: they don’t seem to have the sort of freedom that my generation did with all the parental micro managing that now goes on. As long as we were home by the time the streetlights came on we were pretty well free to roam and play to our heart’s content.

    • It’s so true that kids don’t have the same baggage, whether you’re talking about play or pretty much anything. They’re able to take it at face value, and don’t become bogged down by implications. So let’s not burden them with ours.

  3. Gun violence is huge problem, but the one that stems from combination of gun availability and culture that supports “cock first, ask second”. They do go hand in hand and it is downward spiral that is very, very hard to revert.

    But kids have been playing “violent” games for ages, and proved to be safe outlet to let out the steam and grasp the real consequences later. If we observe the kids in gun play – we will see that gun-wielding kid really quickly realizes the limits of his power – if kid “kills” everybody, the kid is left with no playmates of any kind. So feedback mechanism is right there – abuse the power (of a gun) and you are left alone. And for some unreprehensible reason – we don’t object on sword play? Because there are not sward-deaths in news? Could that be the only reason?

    I do have a problem with the fact that we think that we should censor kids in terms of what pretend-pay they engage, yet nobody will suggest censoring movies as that infringes on “freedom of speech” and “artistic expression” (as those can be found in average teenager-targeted action movie). I think kids are loosing so many freedoms these days in name of “political correctness”, while same PC thinking is dictating tolerance of snuff movies and NRA lobbying. Don’t we have symptom and the cause mixed up?

  4. My kids have all played with toy guns to one extent or another, for the reasons you describe. I don’t think toy guns lead to gun violence…it’s so much more complicated than that.

    On a related note: This weekend my family stayed in a hotel on a little mini-vacation, and there was a family in the pool that I’m almost positive wasn’t American (maybe French or Italian?). The first clue they weren’t American was that the little boy was wearing a Speedo, LOL. But the second was that he jumped into the pool with three HUGE toy guns, which he proceeded to point and “shoot” at other people in the pool…and his mom looked completely unfazed. It reminded me that, no matter how OK I am with gun play in our home, I AM sensitive about it in public – fear of judgment or just appearing in poor taste. It amused me that even my kids looked uncomfortable and taken aback by this kid as he gleefully, cluelessly shot off hundreds of imaginary rounds.
    Meagan Francis’s last post … Getting kids to clean up: how to motivate and direct your pint-sized helpMy Profile

    • I have to be honest, I can’t imagine letting my kid play with toy guns in public, either. It feels a little taboo. Pointing sticks at teach other on a playground is one thing. Hauling out a fake plastic gun and pretending to shoot strangers would exceed my comfort zone.

  5. Get ready to receive flowers and a thank you note from my husband! The toy gun debate is one of the very few issues we’re divided on as parents, and I think I just lost. And honestly, I’m glad — One last thing to have to be mean mommy about. The research does make sense. I’m not opposed to violent music or video games for teenagers. Just something about my sweet toddler playing guns rubs me wrong… But I’ll try to ignore it and rest easy that it’s probably not damaging.

    Also, my friend’s daughter asked for a pink toy gun for Christmas and I objected. Can’t believe I missed out on being the coolest adult around for no good reason!
    Janine’s last post … Now on Zulily: Tropical decor & monkey butt baby pants!My Profile

    • It was actually an article in Mothering magazine that I read years ago that changed my stance on this one. I was anti-toy-gun as well, until I read the research.

      And next time, you won’t miss your chance!

  6. Having daughters, there isn’t a lot of gun play in our house. Like yourself, I have my own views on gun control and what that means. My faher in law was killed in a hunting accident and for my husband, guns aren’t a great topic. We don’t own any and really I can’t imagine we ever will. However, I am pretty sure that my house may be the only house in my village witout a gun!

    When other kids are over I watch them playing. It happens. I don’t sweat it. I had a water gun birthday party for my oldest daughter a couple of years ago too.

  7. I whole-heartedly agree with you on this. I believe in letting kids make sense of things through play, including understanding scary things in life. My girls love vanquishing “bad guys” with their swords that we bought after a pirate cruise in Victoria.
    Christy’s last post … A Fabulous FundraiserMy Profile

    • This is totally off-topic, but I totally want to do that pirate cruise. Every time we’re in Victoria it seems to be closed. It’s one of the perils of visiting in the off-season.

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