Friday, January 8, 2010

Janie's Got a Gun?

I am a big sports fan.  Part of my morning routine includes watching a snippet of SportsCenter while nursing Tiny Baby.  This morning I learned that Washington Wizards superstar (and popular blogger) Gilbert Arenas has been suspended indefinitely after bringing guns into his team's locker room and, allegedy, drawing a gun on a teammate.  (Arenas admitted the first charge on Twitter - this guy is a social media marvel! - but continues to deny the second.)  The Arenas story also brought to mind the recent trial and sentencing of former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress who accidentally shot himself with his own gun while at a New York nightclub.

Both of these well-publicized incidents made me think about guns and the associations we have with them.  For some - including many people in my community - guns are (at least in part) a means to an end; these people are hunters and they use their guns to hunt.  Others, like me, have an aversion to guns based on a complex mixture of unfamiliarity, fear, and a general association of weapons with violence.  Still others have personally experienced guns as a threat and have reacted either by rejecting them or by embracing them as a means of self-defense or, perhaps, self-assertion.  And then there are the legions who fall both inside and outside of these admittedly imprecise categories.

Just as these ideas were percolating in my mind, I stumbled upon a blogger who was tackling the same issues with an interesting perspective.  Jennifer Fink at Blogging 'Bout Boys wrote eloquently on Tuesday about her sons' use of modeling clay to fashion a shotgun shell and a musket ball and her subsequent thoughts "about boys and the many ways our society restricts boy behavior."  She writes:
Most boys have an innate fascination with weaponry and most boys have a desire to test their strength and courage against other boys. Boys have a natural tendency toward competition. Boys think, wonder and fantasize about war.
That doesn't mean that the boys in question actually want to blow each other's heads off; it just means that they're learning how to make sense of those impulses. It means they're exploring ideas. It means they're growing.
What do our boys lose when we forbid them from all expressions of violence? When we tell them what their stories can and cannot be about? Do they not learn that there's something wrong with them, at the core?
I found her words resonant and her questions fascinating, especially as they pointed to an issue I had not yet begun to ponder: will I let my own kids play with guns?

My brothers and I grew up playing with toy guns.  My family did not hunt, nor did we shoot recreationally, but we did play with guns as kids stereotypically do: we were cops and robbers, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Han Solo and Princess Leia.  Husband, meanwhile, reports that he was not allowed to play with guns at all.  (The irony is lost on neither of us that he is now a historian specializing in, among other things, war.)

Many of my friends with kids older than mine do not allow them to play with toy weapons of any sort.  And now they, Gilbert Arenas, Plaxico Burress, and Jennifer at Blogging 'Bout Boys all have me wondering whose lead I should follow.  Should I keep toy guns out of my children's hands or should I let them and their imaginations dictate?

Did you play with guns as a kid?  Do (did/would) you let your children play with them? 

Image: Toy Popgun by Jerrid322 via Wikimedia Commons.  Image is in the public domain.


  1. My children are all older. The "baby," #6, is 15. They have all been offered the opportunity to learn to safely handle and shoot real guns. All but one has done so.

    My oldest filled the freezer recently with venison.

    Of the five gun-educated children, all have or continue to shoot trap with their father at a local gun club during warm weather.

    Was this a conscious choice? Yes. What it without question? No.

    Shortly after Columbine, I moved myself and the six kids to a more rural home where we still live. Almost all of my neighbors are hunters. Some have targets set up on their property and I do hear gun shots fairly regularly. I was big on asking when my kids would want to go to someone's home how they kept their guns stored. Needless to say, I did not immediately make a lot of adult friends. Many thought this question was akin to asking about their sex lives. There were blank stares and gasps and "none of your business" remarks. We survived. My kids have thrived. We are friends still.

  2. With two boys, this was something I went through relative to toys and games when they were little. They wanted guns; I wouldn't buy any. So they ended up making weapons out of sticks in the yard or swords from a branch and mock-fighting. I thought about it - as a kid, I played war with my brother, we used water guns every summer, and by the time my sons were 5 or 6 (?) I relented.

    Massive water guns (rifles?) were the preference - and ultimately, playing with anything resembling a weapon gave way to other acts of sibling competition and to video games.

    I hate guns. However - interesting contradiction - I learned to shoot as a child (at camp - rifles - and loved it, the sport of shooting) and as an adult, around 30, someone offered to take me to a police range and teach me to shoot a gun. I was good at it.

    Did I want a gun in my home? No. Do I shoot now? No. Have I worried about violence in the schools particularly since Columbine? Of course, like all parents I imagine. And we put our worries into something like context - because there are so many - that if we didn't we'd self-destruct. And we go on.

    Fascinating subject, Kristen.

  3. I was teaching at a high school 20 minutes away from Columbine on April 20. With an eerily similar demographic of wealth/student body. We'd spent the morning of April 20 crunched together in the gymnasium; a janitor had found a pipe bomb in the school lobby 5 minutes before students were allowed in the building. I will never forget that entire day, and the days immediately following.

    One year later, my best friend (a fellow teacher at the high school) argued with her drunken husband. He went into the bedroom, took down a loaded gun, and blew his brains all over their bedroom. The bullet went through several walls and ended up stuck in the wall of the baby's nursery, where she was fast asleep.

    I guess you can probably tell where I stand on the gun issue.

  4. I was absolutely certain MY kids would never play with weapons. Then I had my son (now 22). He turned everything, even dolls, into weapons. Where did he even get the idea?? Finally, at 3, I bought him a platic neon sword. *sigh* Still not knowing what was the answer. Before long, at 4 or 5, different "guns"followed. Always bright unrealistic colors so that they wouldn't look real. He loved them. He's still annoyed that I would never let him have the ones that looked real, but I still think that's dangerous. To this day, I'm still not sure about this issue and I would never give advice one way or the other. But my boy seemed to have an inborn inclination to loving all things related to war and fighting. Altho he is not a fighter and doesn't,as a grown kid, have or want any real weapons. When he was in 6th grade I took him to DC with me for the Million Mom March. After Columbine. He still remembers it and the stories we heard there.
    Sorry for this looong comment.
    I applaud you for thinking about this issue and what you want to do. That's most of the battle right there.

  5. I am so glad you brought this up. I used to be a NRA supporter and advocate of "the right to bear arms." Now? I am opposite. I am terrified of guns. I am terrified of my children getting hurt by them. I am terrified of more high school shootings.

    My husband feels differently. He owns a gun and will refuse to get rid of it.

    So, I just don't know. I am sure my boys will make toys into guns. I hope to delay that for as long as possible.

  6. Kristen,

    An insightful post, an important question to ask even if the answer is not a clear one. Having two boys myself, I've read a couple of books about boys. According to the "experts", it's natural for boys to think about guns and weapons and war and if there are no "guns" to play with, one can be fashioned from a pb and j sandwich with a few determined bites. It's a natural "boy thing". So opposite of us girls.

    My boys have water guns and swords and Nerf guns and light sabers. At first I thought oh no, no ,no, we will not play with guns and be violent but then I clued into a few things.

    I have spoken to my 8 year old son about what real guns do. How soldiers protect our country using guns and how some are killed by guns even as they protect us. How criminals use them to hurt and kill other people, sometimes innocent people. How there are very real uses for guns and very real dangers. We've talked about when he plays he can't say things like, "I'm gonna blow your brains out and kill you." He hasn't said that but I know the bigger boys do. If my son wants to play Army in the front yard and keep it civilized then I'm ok with that. Violent, realistic gun-shooting video games? No way. Angry statements about killing? No way and if he crosses the line from normal imaginary play into something else, we'll have some new rules.

    Tragedies like Columbine make this a tough one to decide. Granted, if those boys had not had guns, lives would be spared. However I think the gun was a means to an end. Those boys were not typical boys playing Army in the front yard.

  7. My mother is very anti gun. We didn't have toy guns in our home. But to this day she shakes her head and will tell you that it doesn't matter what you do, little boys will fashion guns out of anything. And everything. My brother certainly did, no matter how hard she tried to dissuade him.
    I think there will be discussions if Fynn decides to pretend to be playing with a gun. We also won't have toy guns. I'm not sure where I stand on stooping imaginary play, provided he's not trying to kill... It's such a tough question.

  8. Hi Kristen,
    My husband always felt that safe training in gun use was the way to go but all my son ever wanted to do was get his hand on a nerf gun, sneak up on his cousins, and wham! Like other commenters, before we ever bought him one, he could turn anything in the house into one, even with masking tape and some imagination. Being from a family of seven sisters, I don't get it. We only played with dolls. But he seems to love the adrenalin burst, the strategizing, and the competition. There are a few things as a parent I thought I'd never do that I ended up doing. Guns are one of them. (Gaming systems are another.)

  9. My dad is a gunsmith, so I have an appreciation for firearms that is uncommon these days (at least, in Chicago) - but I'm not an NRA member.

    It drives me nuts how my 7yo turns EVERYTHING into guns, warships, battlebots, swords, sabres, etc.

    But, we let him. Everyone once in a while I put my foot down and make him think up a machine to make the world a better place or something earthy-crunchy like that. It last about an hour and then once more BLAMBLAMBLAM!!!! Oooowwwww i'm .................... dyiiiiinng.

  10. Natalie et al - I'm starting to realize the apparent inevitability of my sons' becoming obsessed with guns. I always knew that many boys were drawn to toy weapons, but it seems from these comments that it might be more correct to say "most boys."

  11. Late to the game here, but with three boys here at home I can tell you from experience that the gun thing, the weapon thing, is indeed inevitable. When my first son was little I never imagined buying him war or battle equipment of any kind. I think he started making other objects into weapons before he actually acquired a 2 cent plastic gun, but once he got that little weapon I knew I could not resist his desire to "play fight" any longer.

    Also, once kids get to school there is an entire world of influence that you are constantly fighting or explaining as a parent.

    And, with younger sons--who have older brothers--there is not much that can be youngest was saying "bang bang" before he ever said "up," "down," or "cracker." He points and shoots, if only with his finger, and his face beams with a smile and with pride...and as strange as it seems to me now, so does mine.

  12. This has been a major topic on my mind as of late, and one I've been debating posting about... I thought I'd never allow my children to play with guns or weapons. Last week, my 4 year old was officially playing guns outside with the neighborhood kids..he with his pirate pistol that Hubby AND I brought back from a trip. I was amazed that even before I "allowed" them, he would "make" them: out of paper, clay, even other things became shooting weapons. And swords? Daggers? Yeah, all of them. I have no idea how it happened...Peter Pan and The Incredibles had something to do with it all. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and will reread your post and the one you linked before I try to put together some official thougths for an actual post on this!

  13. P.S. I have no f*ckin' idea what's up with this weather down here! We had wind chills in the 20s! Wind Chills! The 20s! HELLO! MIAMI!!! Hopefully you will have warmer weather in Disney...! Let me know how it goes. I'm heading over in 2 weeks, actually! Will be sending you warm thoughts!


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