I’ve been wanting to write this for awhile. Something terrible happened in my town on Friday. It involved a man and a gun. But I’m not ready to talk about that yet. I have too much to say.
Far too much.
Today I want to talk to you about little boys and toy guns. I want to talk to you about my boy, about the truth. Not some politicized lecture on gun control, or men, or how we keep the guns from the crazy men. Or even how we fix a culture that creates so many crazy men.
Not today friends, another time.
Today I’ll tell you about my boy and his love of projectiles.
You see, it all started with a squirt gun.
Since my son was born I knew that we wouldn’t have toy guns. I can’t tell you exactly why I felt this way only that it was a feeling. The sight of a child pointing a weapon at another child; it pulled at something inside me.
I had toy guns growing up.
Lots of them.
When I was a kid toy guns looked real. They didn’t have that little orange piece of plastic on the end. We had a whole arsenal of silver pistols and cap guns. I vividly remember playing cops and robbers, tying the neighbor kid to a chair to interrogate him while waving my Annie Oakley six shooter in his face.
Sometimes I was the cop. Sometimes I was the robber.
I remember shooting coke cans off the fence with my cousin’s BB gun. I remember pointing my plastic, silver pistol out the back window of our Oldsmobile, at the smiling elderly couple driving behind us. They knew they were toys. They thought we were cute.
But time has a way of changing the world. I had a son and resolved that he wouldn’t play with guns. And then when he was two I bought him a water pistol in the $3 section at Target. You know, because summer and childhood and good times.
It wasn’t a gun. It was a water gun.
I could tell you that it was a mistake, if only I’d never bought that water pistol. But this would be pointless. The minute he was introduced to toys that have the ability to launch things, he was hooked. I should have known how it would play out. He had recently discovered the concept of pirates and ships, and with that came cannons.
“What is this contraption?!” he seemed to think, “I can load something little into it and it flies out?! Awesome!”
I watched him and discovered that the male brain seems hardwired to love explosives. My husband made the same observation.
Then he saw the movie Wreck It Ralph at a friend’s house, a movie that had laser guns. And then there was the toy gun in a waiting room somewhere that he picked up and quickly figured out.
It was only these three small instances, but little by little, everything was a gun.
If he found a stick shaped like a handgun, it was a handgun.
I was embarrassed, worried that strangers at the park would think I was letting my two-year-old play with toy guns. But mothers of little boys seemed to understand. They got it.
They knew it was unavoidable.
My father came to visit and told me the same story. That my brother was only three and had never been allowed toy weapons. One day as my Dad was raking leaves he looked up to see him holding a stick and “shooting” with it. He said he stood there dumbfounded, wondering how, why. Of course, I would bet money that my brother had most definitely seen a Bugs Bunny cartoon by that point.
You see, guns are everywhere in American culture. In just about every movie geared toward children. Damn, even Despicable Me has a fart gun. Sure, it shoots farts but it’s still a gun.
I take my kids to see The Peanuts Movie over the weekend and they walk past two giant cardboard displays in which men are posed to shoot you. They’re holding 9mms and look totally bad ass doing it. They look strong, in a way we all wish we were. My two-year-old daughter seems intrigued and scared at the same time.
I don’t know what to tell you about this. I don’t know how we can stop something so deeply ingrained in us.
What I do know is there’s no way I can shelter my boy from this. One day I will have to teach him how to shoot. I will have to teach him gun safety. The same way my father taught my brother and I when we became too interested.
This is where things get conflicted for me.
I’m a damn good shot with a .45. I don’t want guns in my life but not knowing how to shoot while living in a country that has enough firearms (in private homes) to arm every man, woman and child, just seems stupid. I want to teach my son the danger without feeding the obsession.
But for now I will continue to tell him what my father told me.
A couple months back he was playing in the backyard and stopped to contemplate something. He turned to me and said, “Mama, why does *Tim have pretend guns?”
“His Daddy was a soldier and he used to carry a gun. Maybe it feels familiar to him. Maybe his parents don’t think it’s a big deal. But for me it’s a big deal. Guns aren’t pretend. They were invented for one purpose, to kill people. I’m not ok with pretending to kill people because I actually know people who were hurt and killed because of guns. Do you understand?”
He seems to understand, for now. He hasn’t asked for a toy gun in a long time.
But my husband has a stockpile of NERF guns in the basement just lying in wait.
*obviously not the kid’s name