Salon has an article about two parents living in Texas and trying to keep their child from playing too often with guns.
Here in Texas, guns are an integral part of life. Many children have parents who hunt. People living out on ranches need a shotgun leaning in the mud room to take care of that rattler waiting on the front porch. And 200,000 Texans and counting have a concealed carry hand gun permit.
Our son is six; in the past few years I’ve seen him make a play gun out of his finger, a stick, a plastic grabber toy and, once, by chewing a peanut butter sandwich into a gun shape. We’ve also given him a couple of prop guns for imagination play – a pirate blunderbuss that goes with his pirate costume and a play rifle that stays in the closet unless Daddy can play with him….
Could allowing our son to play with toy guns — even to the limited extent that we do allow it — make him less likely to handle guns safely? Or are we just keeping a boy from being fully a boy?…
We are sheltering and shielding our child, protecting him from playing with toy guns, from falling off his bike without a helmet, from exposure to the horrible, violent things humans do to each other. All week, I’ve considered the idea that maybe the parents who graciously had us all over to play that day have the more realistic strategy — let the child watch a show about the reality of what guns do, and let him work it out through his play.
For some reason, it doesn’t bother me when the kids play light sabre battle, duel fiercely with foam swords or “zap” each other dead with imaginary lightning bolts from their fingers. But it really disturbed me to see them “shooting” each other with realistic-looking guns in pantomime of war, mankind’s greatest horror.
I have the same concerns and confusion about what is right, what would be good parenting. I am not sure if living in Korea, with it’s very strict gun-laws, makes the situation better or worse. The reality of what guns can do is diffused by distance, as we only see what they can do in TV, which is not a credible source.
Of course, and the author quoted above mentions light sabres, swords are relatively common here- and in even modern gang movies. Gang members have difficulty obtaining guns, so swords are more common, at least in the few gangster movies I’ve seen (Is Kick the Shilla Moon, a comedy, the right place to learn about Korea?)
And, I let my son play with swords – well, toy swords.
Worse, there is a sharp and dangerous sword in the apartment. After I received my black belt in Haedong Geomdo, I learned I was able to buy a real sword – you need a sword license here. I bought one and trained with it. Without actually being heavy, it is much heavier than my training sword and takes some practice. It has also tasted blood – mine, when I shaved the back of my left hand in a one-handed swing.
Back to guns, with the understanding that the same concerns apply to other objects.
I had a lot of toy guns as a child. I shot at friends and family members and if my father grimaced, I didn’t notice. Nowadays, I am as much a pacifist as anyone in South Korea can be with those crazies (I am using ‘crazy’ literally here) to the north that need watching and an armed deterrent. I don’t care for violence, don’t want to use violence, but can see it is sometimes necessary.
Did the change come when I first owned a ‘real’ gun? My father bought me a pellet gun when I was twelve or so. We had strict rules and he taught me how to use it properly. There was a seriousness about touching it that hadn’t existed with the toys.
The little guy has a toy gun – with ‘real sounds and flashes’ that a friend of the family bought him. He uses it sometimes and I am never happy about it. This summer, I am very likely to buy him -or both of us- a squirt gun, and feel that is very different despite the efforts squirt gun makers go to make them look like regular guns.* This I will wholeheartedly join him in playing with. Is that a mixed message?
*We have a spritzer to water the plants. Are there any other squirt guns that would be fun to use that don’t look like hand guns or rifles? A small version of a forest fire fighting extinguisher, with a tank on the back and a nozzle and pump, would be great. Suggestions in the comments are (always) welcome.