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.
A feedback from a deperate parent
2 weeks ago