Why We Allow Toy Guns in Our House

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Strobridge Elementary school in Hayward, California is holding a “safety day” where they will have firefighters discuss fire safety and police officers discuss bicycle and gun safety.

The unique part of this day is the toy gun exchange. If you give up your toy gun (squirt gun, Nerf gun, Star Wars blaster- you name it) you will receive a book and be entered in a raffle to win a bicycle.

Charles Hill, the principle of Strobridge Elementary explains why he believes the toy gun exchange will have a positive impact on the participants:

“Playing with toy guns, saying ‘I’m going to shoot you,’ desensitizes them, so as they get older it’s easier for them to use a real gun.”

This was timely for me, because I was just thinking about the toy guns in our home. I wasn’t questioning whether or not the boys should be allowed to play with them, but rather, if we should call the toys “guns”.

I know some people prefer “squirters” or “blasters” to guns, and I started contemplating if that was right for us.

I am also curious if that is what many parents find problematic about something like a squirt gun.  In reality, it isn’t much different than having a water balloon fight, but it is the connection to violence with the shape of the toy and the association that the word “gun” has with “firearm” that makes it different.

I understand the concern with that, I really do. I do not think it would be wrong to remove anything related to a weapon or what the family perceives is a promotion for violence; it would not be wrong to decide that isn’t something the family is going to embrace in their home.

But back to the word. So, the dictionary defines a gun as a weapon for the first definition in the dictionary, but the second definition opens up a lot more objects to being classified as a gun (including a squirt gun):

gun |gən| noun:

  1. a weapon incorporating a metal tube from which bullets, shells, or other missiles are propelled by explosive force, typically making a characteristic loud, sharp noise.
  2.  a device for discharging something (e.g., insecticide, grease, or electrons) in a required direction.

Okay, so my glue-gun can keep its name. (I lied; I don’t have a glue-gun…I just wanted to sound crafty for a second.)

I spoke to Brian about the boys playing with toy guns,  and asked for his thoughts. He believes that it is important for the boys to have the ability to play with toy guns as weapons (for hunting or otherwise). The boys are interested in his job; they know he has a gun with him at all times, and they naturally are curious.

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Brian occasionally shows them his “real guns” while they look on with a healthy fear and curiosity. He shows them how he unloads the gun, then holds it properly, even when unloaded, because it is a very dangerous device. They ask questions about shooting people, and Brian explains that he doesn’t shoot people, nor does he ever want to. I’ve heard him say something to the effect of, “They train us guns to use guns as a very last resort…which is so rare I, thankfully, may never have to do that. If a person is hurting someone else, they probably are hurting, too, and we want to make sure to get the person help, not hurt them more, or kill the person. That is what the guns I have do; they kill people… At work, we never want to use our guns, but I am glad I have it, because I want to make sure I keep innocent people safe and make sure I stay safe, so I can come home to you.”

He also added as a comfort and a truth, “Most people don’t use guns, even if they have one, because even the people we arrest for doing bad things realize how serious taking another life is. You can’t bring a person back, even if you shot them on accident.”

The boys ask why mommy doesn’t have a gun, and Brian explains to them that not all grown-ups want or feel they need a gun. It is legal to own one responsibly, but many people feel like there is no reason to possess one or that it would be more dangerous to own one than not to.

Then, they like to talk about how mommy has knives.

Yes, I do. (Come to think of it, toy knives and swords are toy weapons that no one seems to be concerned about.)
The boys and I started a “real knife” collection together that we keep in a safe in our room, but the boys sometimes ask to bring it down and we’ll look at the pieces we’ve collected together. In every country we’ve visited, we’ve brought a knife back. My favorite was a knife created by the Hamar people in Ethiopia. When we were in South Africa and Aram was recovering from puking his guts out, he wanted to find a knife for our collection, but instead found a a group collecting money for an AIDS clinic and made sure we stopped to give them his knife money. (Don’t worry, we still made sure to find him a knife…Okay, this one might have been a letter opener, but it is knife-ish. That letter opener makes me smile every time I look at it because of the story attached.)gun1.jpg

 

It seems our family isn’t afraid of weapons, real or fake. It is important that they learn about the uses for every weapon (hunting, self-defense in extreme rare scenarios, and even combat), but the most important thing is that they understand the difference between real and fake weapons. Whether or not they believe using a weapon in any of the scenarios we listed is right or wrong will be up to them to decide as they grow older.

Even though they haven’t reached adulthood, the boys’ opinions are of value and I was curious what they thought about this.

I told the boys about the school toy gun exchange and asked if that was something they would be interested in.

Aram scrunched his face in disapproval and Samuel said “No thanks, can we please keep our guns?” (I had to explain to them that I was just asking what they thought and not suggesting this was something they needed to do. They seemed to open up more once they realized their toys weren’t  at risk of being replaced by books.)

I asked Samuel what the difference was between real and fake guns. He answered, “Real guns hurt people.” I asked him if he thought it would be easier to use a real gun since he plays with squirt guns a lot, to which he replied, “No, Daddy’s guns are different than toy guns; we don’t know how to shoot them and we could accidentally shoot ourselves if we played with them.”

I asked Aram what he thought and he just said, “I like playing with toy guns. I like squirt gun fights with you in the pool.” And I thought, “I do too!

Samuel: ” I don’t want to learn to use real guns when I grow up. I want to be a gardener.”

Aram: “Me too!”

Samuel: “Or a secret agent…”

Me: “I think secret agents might carry guns.”

Samuel: “Oh, I’ll learn to use one then, but I want to be the kind that works with computers.”

Again, I think it is a personal decision if you want to allow your children to play with guns, and I do understand that if it goes against your own family ideology, then skipping the guns makes sense.

However, as a person who has had a brother taken from this world by a firearm, and a wife of a law enforcement officer, I wholeheartedly believe allowing toy guns in our own home is not putting our children at risk of violent behavior. In fact, in our case, I think it is helping them understand the serious nature of weaponry and warfare and, like with the boys’ martial arts classes, they learn to respect human life by understanding how fragile it is. They are learning that while they may have the capacity to end someone’s life through violence, it would be the last thing they would ever want to do.

 

I guess with all of that being said, in about 10 years you can expect to see us playing as a family in the paintball park.

16 comments

  1. I can understand your points, but we are not big into sword fights or any other weapons. They can LARP when they are teens and go to the range if they choose to as adults. Also, we all (yep all 5 of us) hate being shot at with water guns. Water often stings our eyes, maybe bc of chlorine?, and it makes us feel vulnerable. That may not be how everyone feels, but it is how we all feel in my home thus far.

  2. Thank you for writing on this topic! I gave birth to a baby boy 9 months ago and during my pregnancy many deaths of children from shooters and accidental gun handling was all over the news. Needless to say, this is a topic my husband and I need to start navigating before our son is much older.

  3. I was adamant about having no guns (squiter/blaster/shmaster) for my son. At around 10 he was interested in a BB gun and even though I thought it was out of character for him, not for a boy, we got him one. I so
    Sometimes I wonder why I said no to them other than the obvious ones but I am a pretty relax parent but the thought of him thinking a real fun was a toy one kept me from thinking any other way. “Guns are bad”, that was that.
    He is 12 now and knows a lot about fun violence as I always watch the news with him so he doesn’t hear a piece of something at school, I want him to be informed and anyway, I like this discussion and there is a new boy in our house, 11 months old- I have a feeling I will tone it down and let him play, still enforcing that guns are dangerous, I’ll put less if a stigma on them… Maybe. Probably.
    But BB guns are fun and water guns are fun and nerf guns are INSANELY fun. Books are good but that school is way off base. It’s like teaching abstinence and skipping contraception.

  4. I was raised with guns in the house, was taught to shoot as soon as I was old enough to safely handle one, and I hunted when I was old enough to legally. Saying that, I do not agree with toy guns. My dad made it abundantly clear that if you pointed a gun at a person and shot them, there was a good chance that person was now dead. His belief has always been that you learn by practice, but why practice on a human being? And if you’re not practicing, why are you doing it? We had guns, but we were never allowed to point a gun at a person. Ever. If he caught you with a stick and you were pretending to shoot someone, you were in trouble. If you made a gun with your fingers and pretended to shoot someone, you were in trouble…catch the theme?

    Shooting at an animal kills the animal in hunting. Shooting at a person kills the person. Is that your intention? If not, then why are you shooting at a person? Killing anything, or pretending to kill something is a very serious event in your life, or at least it should be. Seriously…there’s no better (or more fun) way to squirt someone? I find that hard to believe.

    • Kelly, when did we ever say that using squirt guns (or any toy guns) was also a time we role play killing? Also, a gun by definition (please read the second definition from the dictionary) means a device that discharges something. A glue gun doesn’t kill people… it discharges glue, a water gun discharges water, a staple gun discharges staples…etc

      We respect your choice not bring toy guns into your home, but please be respectful when discussing this topic because it is a very sensitive for a lot of us. What is truth for you may not be for another family.

      With that being said, my brother was not allowed “toy gun play” as a child and a real gun took his life. My husband throughout childhood was allowed both a real firearm and toy gun play. He and understands the sport fun of being a marksman with any device (especially nonlethal), but shooting people to stop them (which is also what he is trained to do) he views as completely separate.

      • Thanks for responding, Jamie. The other guns you listed all have a purpose…gluing, stapling. A water gun is for fun. I believe it’s fun to squirt people, not shoot them. Maybe it’s just semantics, but that’s where my concern lies. I didn’t and don’t mean to be disrespectful. I had someone very close to me taken far too early due to someone else not understanding the purpose of a gun, so I commented.

        • Good points by both of you. I have to think about this, and I want to also point out that it isn’t just a “son” thing; my daughter likes to play “power ranger” and role plays shooting with toy weapons. She said to me the other day while pretending to shoot, “I’m going to shoot you and then you die.” That disturbed me. We shall be having a talk. I don’t necessarily believe I need to take away squirt guns or toy weapons in general, but I do want to impress upon her the difference in shooting water for play and pretending to kill people. And also when it’s not okay to shoot people even with water (like if they ask you not to or tell you to stop.)

  5. I grew up with guns. Both my parents were involved in competitive shooting. Naturally, they taught me too. But, there was a huge emphasis on gun safety. Based on how I grew up, I am convinced there are no such things as gun “accidents” … just irresponsible gun ownership. I sometimes read about people who “accidentally” shot themselves while cleaning their gun. And as a gun owner, as well as someone who grew up around guns, I honestly can’t fathom this! I clean my gun, too. But, two seconds before I clean it, I check to see if it’s loaded. Even if I know it isn’t. Even if I remember unloading it. Doesn’t matter. It’s the first thing I do. So, the whole gun accident stuff baffles me. I also have small children in the house, and they would NEVER come across my gun just lying around – loaded at that. I just can’t fathom that. People buy safety locks for their toilets, but can’t manage to put their gun away? Mini rant, sorry.

    Anyway, because I grew up with two parents who enjoyed their guns, I never played with toy guns. Maybe because my parents took me to shooting ranges early on, maybe because I saw them as weapons very early on … for whatever reason, I never wanted toy weapons. Those didn’t even seem interesting to me. I’m not against toy weapons, though. I don’t really see the point of them. But, again, that is probably due to my upbringing.

    My kids, like me, aren’t very interested in toy guns. They don’t see the point in them either. But, my dad takes them to the shooting range. So, much like me, they have always seen guns as weapons, not toys. All 3 of them do, however, like bows and arrows. Obviously, the real ones are banned in the house. ;-) But, they love the fake ones with suction cups too. And the ones with blunt tips. Though, FYI, those blunt tips go through canvas paintings hanging on your living room walls.

    • “But, two seconds before I clean it, I check to see if it’s loaded. Even if I know it isn’t. Even if I remember unloading it. ”

      I don’t own a gun but this sounds like an excellent safety protocol. I do something similar with medicines; I always check my pills every time I take one even if I “know” what it is. I also check the inserts (one time a doctor prescribed something that was contraindicated for me due to another med I was taking.) And once a pharmacy gave me the wrong directions for taking an antibiotic (once a day instead of twice.) It doesn’t hurt to be extra careful with possibly dangerous things.

    • This is how I was brought up. We’ve allowed our children to have toy guns, mostly the nerf ones but we’ve also discussed gun safety with them. Unfortunately most of our children haven’t had the opportunity to shoot like I did as a child. Range fees aren’t high on the priority list when paying the rent is a struggle. If we could afford it we would teach them all to shoot though as we believe it’s an important skill to have.

  6. Great post! Up until I read your post I was completely against any kind of toy gun (the rule for family buying presents is no guns or princesses!). You’ve given me a lot to think about now though. Maybe a complete ban will teach nothing and even possibly make them more appealing rather than letting her play with a water gun and using it as an opportunity to discuss weapons etc. It’s an interesting thought, I’m off to have a debate with my husband! Thank you

  7. Children are more likely to die from a swimming pool (FAR MORE LIKELY) than by a gun. While it is super super super important to know the difference between real and fake, to understand it isn’t a toy, to know not to touch one if you see it but to get an adult right away, safety things like how to disarm it if necessary when older, I don’t think toy guns/knives/swords/other weapons are a problem at all. Children know the difference between real and fake at a certain age, and heck my 2yo knows the difference between pretend eating and eating (she “feeds” her babies all the time with real food and pretends to eat sometimes in a playful way). I think teaching safety is much more important than teaching fear.

  8. I am not a fan of toy guns, but my kids have squirt guns & nerf guns & I’m not opposed to them either.

    Here is another article on the same thing.

    http://www.freerangekids.com/playing-with-toy-guns-desensitizes-children-to-using-real-guns-uh-sez-who/

  9. I personally loves this post. My husband is in the AF and my children have seen him with guns all their lives. We teach what is safe and what is not. Even with our pretend guns you never point at someone’s face. I believe it is teaching our children gun smarts for a lack of better wording. I was raised around guns and how to load and shoot them. I never once thought about turning that gun on another human being because it had been explained to me that life is precious and one little action could take that away. I believe in this world we are raising our children to not understand things that are around them. We are taking away their rights to learn right from wrong. In so many words our coddling is making our children not be able to make informed decisions on things. They are learning that guns are so bad but what are they going to do when they see one? That is why I ask parents if they have guns in their homes and if they are locked up. Because I know my child knows what to do but what about the other children. Thank you for this post. Very well written and I love the way your husband explains it too the children.

  10. I totally agree, and love that you have taken the time to think this through and write about it. I think so many parents (especially mothers) are terrified that their boys will become violent, or just don’t understand natural boy behavior, that they try to avoid anything remotely having to do with violence (toy weapons, karate, etc.) out of fear. I believe exposing children to responsible forms of guns (real and fake) helps them better understand them so they can be responsible themselves. Whatever you ban children from playing with just becomes more enticing, mystical, and exciting… there must be something awesome about it if mom won’t let me see/touch/play with it. Then you increase the risk of them actually hurting themselves or others if/when they happen to come in contact with a gun somewhere else (such as at a friend’s house, etc.).

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