How I Disarmed My Gun-Toting Kid
To a mother who once felt the allure of shooting, even pretend toy guns are too real.
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My little boy likes guns. He told me so.
He had engineered some plastic blocks into an L. Then with 3-year-old bravado, he announced, "This is a gun!"
All my mothering alarms went into high alert. This was a key parenting moment, and I needed to get it right. "No, it's not a gun," I said.
He thought for half a second. "This is a pretend gun."
I wanted to say again, "No, it's not." Meaning, "No, I don't want it to be." But I stopped myself. Whatever I want or don't want, if it's a pretend gun to him, then it's a pretend gun.
"O," I said. "But listen. I don't want you to play with guns. Not evenpretend
play." Then, in the simplest terms I could find, I explained what suddenly became clear to me about my feelings about toy guns. I explained that real guns are very dangerous. They can hurt people very, very badly. So badly they might die. And the main reason guns are made is to hurt people. It's wrong to hurt people, and I didn't like him to even pretend to hurt people. That wasn't nice.
He listened. He considered. "You don't like guns?" he asked. "No," I said. Then, with that mix of candor and contrariness that defines his age, he declared, "But I like guns."
I can't say that I was shocked. But I knew at that moment how strongly I felt about this issue. If only "it's wrong to hurt people" were all there was to it. I had left out the part about kids who have been shot by cops or others because they thought the toy gun in the young person's hand was real. I left out the part about kids who shoot themselves or each other when they find a gun by accident at home. Or shoot each other on purpose in school. I left out the part about children in other places (even in our city) toting real guns, recruited into adult games that are deadly real, and how I felt his play would dishonor their misused innocence.
And I left out the part about how I had held a gun, and shot a gun, myself.
My father had two old hunting rifles in the basement, and the way I remember it, when I was about 12 and my sister 11, he decided we ought to learn how the guns worked. We ought to be able to tell whether a gun's safety was on or not, and how to take the ammunition out. I thought I remembered him explaining that we needed to know these things in case an intruder found them and tried to use them against us. My sister insists I must have made that part up, and it does sound illogical. But that only confirms what a deep impression the whole experience made on me. Especially when we went out to the shooting range.