Toys, Guns, and Fear

We recently opened a Han Solo Star Wars figurine that my two-year-old son was given to find not one plastic gun – but seven. SEVEN! I look at this toy, and I’m completely overwhelmed. I’m not ready to face the guns issue yet. I haven’t even sorted out my own beliefs about them – how am I going to approach this with my young son?

Larsen asks what they are. I ignore him. I don’t want to lie, but I don’t want to introduce something I am not ready for him to learn.

Guns scare me. I see those tiny fake weapons, and my thoughts scatter as I search for a way to balance both my desire to instill non-violent beliefs in my son as well as dealing with a very real need to feel protected in my home.

I first think about how I overheard a mother of three young boys say, “Boys will turn anything into a gun. “Even a sandwich,” she said. “They will take a bite, turn it sideways, and their hands will be on the trigger.” “Boys will be boys,” she continued.

Her husband was an avid hunter – I love that my husband isn’t. Not only is he former military with extensive gun training, but also he grew up with his grandfather teaching him respect for guns, not seeing them as an extension of his uniquely-male dominating power.

I know gun ownership is a multifaceted subject. I think of what author Sam Harris said: “I am surrounded by otherwise intelligent people who imagine that the ability to dial 911 is all the protection against violence a sane person ever needs.”

My mind also thinks of Libertarians who are concerned with stricter gun control laws because it concentrates power in the few (military/police), which threatens the freedom of the many (citizens).

Then, I think about the writer Sean Faircloth when he states: “Firearm assaults on female family members, and intimate acquaintances are approximately twelve times more likely to result in death than are assaults using other weapons. Two-thirds of women killed by spouses are killed with guns.”

I also think about my friend who got shot in the face at a high school party. A former student, now a Marine reservist, was there showing off two of his own personal guns. Our friend was immediately worried but didn’t leave. Only moments before firing an unexpected shot, the young man arrogantly rambled that the gun wasn’t loaded and he knew how to handle his weapon.

When our friend recounts this story today, he reminds me that his single mother was terrified of guns too, so he never received the respect lesson. He’s told us if he would have been taught a healthy respect and fear of guns, he would have been out of there as soon as the guy pulled them out.

Yes, we need more safety measures for guns. Yes, we need more gun control.  Why is it so hard to install those fingerprint triggers?

But then I think about how those triggers would not have helped my friend or the women shot by their spouses.

But maybe they would help little kids like my son.

Yes, back to Larsen. I wonder what approach would work for him. Larsen is the type who loves big reactions, especially from me.

I am reminded of the words of Heather Shumaker in one of my favorite parenting books ever – It’s Ok Not to Share

“War play is as legitimate as playing house. When a preschooler says “Bang! Bang!” it’s a game, not violence. Don’t be fooled because the topic may be violent— this play is typically highly social and cooperative, teaching your child skills in friendship and even early morality. If we fear weapon play and ban it, children may still pursue their fascination with power and weapons— often in places we can’t see it. Playing with toy swords and guns is not harmful, but your reaction to it might be. Trust your child to choose her own play themes.”

Maybe it’s not the hyper-masculine toys or the guns in themselves. Maybe it doesn’t matter if guns are paraded in the home as acceptable recreation. But I’ve always thought the culture of the home is sometimes represented in a child’s play.

Maybe it is also my approach. I can either be fearful – adding to the allure and power of guns – or I can understand the respect lesson – I can address their dangerousness, how guns in real life and guns in play are different, and offer these things in developmentally appropriate pieces to my son.

Maybe this approach will keep my son safe. Maybe he won’t be attracted to them as we cruise down the toy aisle. Maybe he won’t pretend his sandwich is a gun.  Maybe our home will set him up to respect guns.

This little figurine of one of my favorite movies has stirred up so much for me about guns, toys, boys’ development, and fear. I’m disoriented. I don’t really know how to move forward.

When Larsen has forgotten about the toy, I slip the seven deadly plastic pieces into the trash, telling myself it’s more about a choking hazard than my inability to face my fears.

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