Stick to Your Guns

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Real war is different from playing army. I know that. But I still feel uncomfortable when I see a 6-year-old toting a plastic machine gun – especially when it’s my kid.

le="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">When our first child was born, my husband and I both agreed (at least I thought we both agreed) that we would not allow our son to play with toy guns. Guns, we asserted – even water pistols shaped like animals – promote violence, aggression and general boy-like behavior that I worried would lead my child to drop out of school and build explosives in our basement.

le="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">I protected my firstborn as best I could from anything remotely violent. I hid the front page of the newspaper to shield him from gruesome pictures of warfare. I refused to watch the nightly news – even after he went to bed – lest the word “kill” drift into his subconscious. I even boycotted our town’s annual Fourth of July parade because the Revolutionary War re-enactors carried reproduction muskets that they fired with a fiendish delight all along the parade route.

le="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">I felt smug. I had done my job. My child was almost 5 and he had never heard the word “gun,” or been exposed to anything more violent than a sneeze. He was pure and innocent and peace-loving. Or so I thought.

le="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">Then, one morning at breakfast, he waved a half-eaten slice of toast and emitted a sound that exactly mimicked an Uzi submachine gun.

le="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">“Phhhhhhhhhhtttttttttttttt!”

le="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">“Is that a little airplane?” I asked anxiously.

le="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">“No, it’s a shooter,” he replied, calmly aiming the toast at me.

le="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">I was appalled. How had this happened? I thought back to my college psychology classes and theories of the collective unconscious.

le="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">“Do you want Mommy to put jelly on your toast?” I asked, hoping to squash his imagination.

“No toast, shooter,” he insisted as he nibbled the crust to a greater realism. I was horrified, but my husband was unperturbed.

“Boys like to shoot stuff,” he reasoned. “I spent my entire childhood playing with toy guns and I’m not a violent person.”

This is true. My husband refuses to beat eggs or whip cream. He’s a gentle soul who catches the mice that invade our kitchen in a “Have-a-Heart Trap,” then chauffeurs them from our house to more prestigious neighborhoods.

“Maybe by forbidding guns, you’re making them seem more exciting,” he argued.

Hmmmm, apparently someone else had taken Psychology 101.

The next day my husband came home with a bag from Toys ’R’ Us, sending our son into a frenzy.

“Whaddaja bring me? Whaddaja bring me?” He tore into the plastic packaging and released his prize – a shiny toy pistol with a brown plastic holster and a clip-on sheriff’s badge. The boy  beamed with pleasure. I went ballistic.

“I thought we agreed to no guns!”

The link between toy guns and acts of real violence was becoming clear. I wanted to throttle my husband.

“How could you buy this without checking with me first?”

“Cowboys don’t count,” my husband said. “Roy Rogers had guns, so did John Wayne – they’re not psycho killers – they are American icons. Cowboys don’t count.”

My son buckled the holster around his waist and scampered outside making ricochet sounds with his mouth.

“It’s still a gun,” I brooded, as I watched my child in the back yard taking aim at trees and imaginary outlaws. I hoped no one else was looking out their kitchen window.

“The neighbors won’t let him play with their kids anymore,” I warned. “None of the other children are allowed to have toy guns. Everyone will think we’re terrible parents.”

But I was wrong. The cowboy pistol marked the end of our neighborhood arms accord and in just a few days every child was weighed down with weaponry. They were packing Nerf™ guns, strapping on super squirters and twirling Ninja Turtle numchucks. The back yards became battle zones and the decibel level in our neighborhood soared. Now, I try to tell myself that although they are  running around the block yelling “Kill!” they are getting exercise, breathing fresh air and, best of all, they are out of the house.  Fortunately, there have been no casualties, (just the near collapse of my marriage), and I’ve come to realize that there are some battles that I just can’t win.