We don’t have any toy guns in our house.
Okay, that’s not 100 percent accurate. We have a handful of miniscule, grey, plastic Lego guns so tiny you don’t even notice them until you step–barefoot–upon them, and then you notice them plenty. But they don’t count. They’re not real approximations of guns that can hurt or kill.
I’ve battled with myself over the toy gun issue for years now. When my son was 4 he suddenly picked up an interest in guns. I’m not sure where his intrigue or even knowledge of guns came from. Television and other media was limited to family-friendly shows from PBS and the like, and neither my husband or I are gun enthusiasts or ever felt the need to discuss guns around the house. I may have watched one or two seasons of 24 while nursing my son on the couch in his first few months of life–but I can’t imagine that’s what turned him on to guns… right?
And despite sending him to a peace and friendship promoting Montessori preschool, he still learned about guns–and all their supposed glory–while frolicking on the playground. A right of passage, I suppose, but still no less unsettling for this pacifist mama. I remember bringing up my concerns once during a parent-teacher conference. After reassuring me that my son’s behavior was completely normal, his teachers offered a few suggestions. One told me that I should explain to my son why I disliked guns so much. The other suggested that we change up our vocabulary, and call them “love guns.” I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t be able to say “love gun” with a straight face, and opted for suggestion number one.
The next time my son started making pew pew pew noises in my direction–this time with a half-eaten waffle–I explained to him that I did not want a gun (yes, even one made out of a breakfast food) pointed at me because it made me feel uncomfortable. I said that even though I knew his waffle gun couldn’t really hurt me, just the idea of something like a real gun being pointed at me made me feel bad. We talked it out for a while, and continued to talk it out many times after.
Since then, he hasn’t pointed a creatively manufactured gun (string cheese, sticks, Lego, the phone, his fingers, a marker, etc…) at me, but it also hasn’t quelled his enjoyment of pretend gun play, either by himself or with his buddies.
For a while, I actually found some peace with it. We even went to a birthday party and played a rousing game of laser “tag,” which is really just polite euphemism for laser gun shoot ’em up. My unease with my son’s gun play lightened up and I found myself understanding all the “it’s only a phase” comments I was inundated with when I first started obsessing over it. Even my husband–a sweet, kind, peaceful man–recollected the many times he played with pretend or toy guns and reassured me that he was none the worse off for it.
But then–the Newtown shooting happened and it hit way too close to home. I actually grew up only a few towns away from Sandy Hook, we live an hour away from there now, and my son is in Kindergarten. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the whys and hows associated with the brutal, awful tragedy. There’s no easy answer–I know that much. It would be too simplistic to say that what happened in Newtown is solely because of the culture of violence we find ourselves living in. But there’s no denying that’s a part of the puzzle.
The first time that my son made his pew pew pew sounds from the backseat of the car after Friday the 14th, I admit to having a mild panic attack. My mind was still reeling from everything that had happened–things that my son should never know about or be made aware of–and I couldn’t immediately separate the violence that occurred in Connecticut from the pretend play that was taking place in my car.
There’s no one immediate solution to what happened in Newtown. There are many things that need to happen to prevent similar occurrences–stricter gun control, more access to quality mental health care, a dismantling of the focus on hyper-masculinity in our society, and a reduction in the amount of violence in the media we consume. Does that mean that I need to tear through my house, tossing away anything that could be construed as a gun in hopes that my son won’t continue in his pretend play? No, of course not. I know that this type of play is normal and age-appropriate and doesn’t necessarily portend a life of crime for my son. But that won’t stop me from continuing to talk to him in age-appropriate terms about how I feel
and real guns and the damage they can cause. Because while there are many things outside the scope of my control, I can at least find a way to bring balance into my house when it comes to this.
For more reactions to Newtown, read Mayim Bialik on faith in a time of tragedy, one mother asking, “Where was God?” and the importance of raising resilient kids.