Monday, September 19, 2011

It finally happened.

Ben tried to pretend an ordinary toy was a gun.

It happened last Friday evening, at the math department picnic.  Ben and I were playing with his air propulsion rocket when he gleefully shouted, "Let's pretend it's a gun!!!"  (Yes, my child is very literal.)

My response:  "No, let's not do that.  I don't like guns, and I don't think they're fun things to pretend about."

Now, Ben's knowledge of guns is scant.  When they are mentioned in songs, we kinda gloss over it, as in the Rocky Raccoon lyric, "Now Rocky had come equipped with a nuuuuuuuh to huuuwuhhuh legs of his rival."  Call us cowards, but we just don't want to go there yet.  But the kids at school talk.  His preschool has an anti-gun-play policy, but I'm sure some of the kids manage to circumvent it in clever ways, and they probably make it look pretty cool.

I don't own a gun, but we have friends who do for hunting purposes, and I'm okay with that.  My parents have a longtime family friend who is a vegetarian and hunts, at least partly on the premise that he's providing counterbalance to all the folks who will eat it but aren't willing to kill it.  I'm not trying to take away anyone's guns or cast aspersions on gun owners.  But let's be honest about it:  The purpose of a gun is to tear flesh apart in a fairly violent fashion, and I'm not ready to have that conversation with Ben yet.  And until I am, I don't want him getting the idea that guns have any other purpose -- most particularly that they are cool play things.  A gun is a tool, an object, and in and of themselves they are not evil or even dangerous; they're just lumps of metal.  But as tools they have a purpose, and when that purpose is misunderstood, people misuse them, and other people get hurt.

Now, in families where gun ownership is a valued tradition and there is an expectation that children will one day use or own guns, it might make sense to have toy guns and to encourage gun play, if for no other reason than to motivate conversations about responsible gun use.  If you're a football fanatic, you're probably going to get your kid a football and hope that he or she eventually shares your enthusiasm.  I guess I'm okay with all that.  But honestly, guns freak me out.  I don't want one in my house, and I sincerely hope Ben never has one either.  At some point he will learn about death, crime, self-defense, war, hunting, life on the frontier, etc., and at that point he'll learn a lot about guns.  But until he's old enough to understand them in context, there's no reason for him to be exposed to them, and certainly not in the guise of harmless play things. 


rouchi said...

Its a tough thing to do, but a good thing to learn.It is a weapon and in times like today, he is better off without such things.I still remember, my son was gifted with a gun on his 5th b'day, I made sure I returned it to the lady with due apologies.And I have no regrets.Its good lesson Julia !

leah said...

We have really discouraged gun play in our house, too. It is a "big thing" at preschool, even though it isn't allowed there. It is very interesting, because we aren't "into" guns or hunting, so Matt has no exposure to it except through preschool and other children. He is obsessed at the moment (kindergarten is a big time for exposure to a LOT of different ideas at school). The idea of weaponry makes him very excited. We went through a brief (age appropriate) explanation that weapons HURT people - he simply states he only wants to hurt bad guys. Five is a big age for "bad guys" and "good guys," and "black and white" situations.

It's an ongoing conversation...

krlr said...

I really don't know where they pick it up... I can count my son's non-animated non-Nick Jr shows on one hand and he's STILL plays good guys/bad guys and goes Pow! Pow!. I tell him mommy doesn't like guns (too) but it seems too early to HAVE to.

Madeline said...

We also have an anti-gun-play rule at work, and generally the kids I have to go after about it are younger than third grade. Maybe by that time it finally starts to sink in that guns are not allowed in school? Our community definitely has a higher percentage of hunters than the average community, but interestingly I feel like it's less common that I catch kids from those families pretending to have guns than the kids who live in the subdivisions.

The other day I had to stop one of my favorite kids from pretending he had a gun, but then minutes later my best friend and I were encouraging him to play Star Wars, which of course ended in a lightsaber battle, and the irony was not lost on me. But as Obi-Wan said, a light saber is "not as clumsy or random as a blaster...a more elegant weapon for a more civilized age."


Bobby Winters said...

Dave Berry believes that little boys were going around with their fingers or sticks going "bang-bang" before the invention of gunpowder and that it was only after the invention of the gun that this behavior made sense.

My father had hunted to survive when he was a young man but had lost all taste for it by the time he died. Nevertheless, my brother and I were given guns, taught how to shoot, and taught gun safety. I own a shotgun and a rifle, but neither is kept in the house, and neither has been shot in twenty years.

All of that to say, kids!

Elsie Hickey Wilson said...

You do what you have to do, say what you have to say, explain what you have to explain to keep your family in some sort of consistent direction with your own beliefs, philosophy, fears. It gets pretty tough when your kids have to enter water play with old Windex Bottles and water and the neighbor's kids have real squirt guns. You start young, before the gun issue even comes up to explain that we don't like hurting other people and "pinch and poke and hit" are not what we want to do. Then there comes a day, long after the tears of "all the other kids have a squirt gun and I have a dumb old Windex bottle" that the same kid, all grown up, as a parent holds that value dear to their heart that you planted the seeds of so very long ago! Julia will remember the "pinch and poke and hit" and the "Dumb old Windex Bottle" references. If for no other reason than the greater lesson is better than the immediate loss of values, as a parent you align what you believe with what you do and say as best you can. ...Julia's MOM

Julia said...

Well, I have to admit that a Windex bottle packs a lot more aqua-punch than a cheap little squirt gun anyway! Not that I was ready to admit that when I was a kid. Never pass up an opportunity to whine, right? Or was that my sister?