Boys and Guns

by Abby on December 19, 2012

Note: I wrote this a couple days ago and thought about not posting it. Judging by my Twitter and Facebook feeds, it seems like most people have put the Newtown tragedy behind them and are getting back to normal life again. I don’t blame them.

But then there was an incident at my son’s school today when a kid brought in a too-realistic toy gun. My son was home sick, but my heart still stopped when we got the call from the principal describing the incident. So I guess the time has not passed for this post.

If you are looking for more light-hearted fare – and again, I don’t blame you – please check out my tongue-in-cheek gift guide at As always, thanks for reading.

yellow plastic squirt gunAn anecdote I’ve told over and over is about the time I took my then-2yo son to the pool and he encountered a squirt gun for the first time. “Look, mama! A hairdryer!” he pronounced gleefully.

I like to tell this story mostly because it’s cute and funny, but also — if I’m being really honest with myself — because it makes me feel like a better parent. MY son doesn’t play with guns; he doesn’t even recognize a gun when he sees it, I may have thought smugly.

Well. Fast-forward a few years and I now have 2 little boys who run around the house pointing blocks, cardboard tubes, even pieces of toast at each other, shouting, “I got you with my gun! I shot you in the face!” It’s jarring every time.

“Do not point that at people,” I say, pushing the paper-towel tube down at the floor. “Guns are dangerous, you know.” But they are oblivious, and I’m conflicted.

I remember before I had kids I was visiting a friend of mine, a mom of 3 boys. We share similar values and politics, so I was a little surprised to see that she let her kids play with toy guns. In my circles, that’s on par with drinking while pregnant and not recycling. Hesitantly, trying not to be openly judge-y, I basically asked her what the hell was up with that. She smiled ruefully and said, “Just wait. If you ever have a boy you’ll see. They will make a gun out of anything, even a stick in the backyard.” And she was right.

I still have never bought my boys toy guns. They have been given squirt guns and other weaponry – swords, light sabers – as gifts, and we have allowed them to keep these toys. I remain uneasy about guns, though. Just writing about it is hard, because I don’t want to stir up the bitter gun debates that are raging elsewhere on the Internet. And also, I am imagining the judgments and scorn of people who see the issue as black and white, like I did before kids. I can’t BELIEVE she lets her kids play with guns. We would NEVER allow guns in our house.

But I don’t want to take the hardline stance that guns are bad. We have friends who are police officers and military personnel. So what, then? Guns are bad unless you need one for your job? Unless you use them on bad guys? Whatever I say leads to more troubling questions.

And what about hunting enthusiasts? My son and a friend were talking one day and my son said, “I can’t wait till I’m old enough for my dad to take me skiing.” And his friend replied, “I can’t wait till I’m old enough for my dad to take me hunting and teach me how to shoot a gun.”

My son is far too big of an animal lover to ever take up hunting, but he does love his video games. We don’t allow him to play violent ones, but even the most innocuous games seem to involve blowing things up. So what, it’s OK to shoot Spongebob but not people, even virtual ones?

So I remain conflicted. In the aftermath of Newtown, everyone’s talking about guns. I wish we didn’t have to. I wish I could go back to the time when my son thought the yellow plastic pistol floating in the kiddie pool was a hairdryer.

READ O’ THE DAY: An interesting perspective on guns and change from author and speaker Brene Brown.

PIC O’ THE DAY: This photo is chilling, but also hopeful. These are 461 of the guns that were turned in over the weekend at Baltimore’s “Guns for Goods” event, where people can exchange firearms for grocery store gift cards.

guns collected at Baltimore's Goods for Guns, Dec. 15, 2012

photo courtesy of @LakiaNichole

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Tina Stroup December 19, 2012 at 8:21 am

Ab, Great article. I, too, feel the same way. My biggest question lately now is how do we broach the subject of who has guns in their homes where our kids are going for play dates? Do we really know the parents’ views on guns, if they have them, are they locked away, do their kids know that they have them, etc.? I’m so worried about this because my son is a typical 6-7 year old boy that would be captivated by a gun and wouldn’t know if it was real or fake. So scarey……. How do you ask a family that question?


Abby December 19, 2012 at 9:33 am

That is a tough question, especially as our kids get older and go to people’s houses that we don’t know that well. I would hope that anyone with guns in their house would be vigilant about keeping them away from their kids. I think all we can do is teach our kids to be wary of guns and never, ever to play with them. I have heard horrible stories about grown men who were playing around with guns and it ended badly. As for the real vs. fake… I thought they weren’t even allowed to make realistic looking toy guns anymore, but I guess that’s not the case.


Stacy B December 19, 2012 at 8:53 am

Relevant and timely, Abby. My son made things into guns before we realized he knew what it was, too. Brené’s article is great. Thanks for posting!


Abby December 19, 2012 at 9:33 am

Thanks, Stacy. Brene always knows what to say. 🙂


Kathleen Basi December 19, 2012 at 9:27 am

My first didn’t do that at all…until he started school. Now he’s got both him and his little brother doing it. I keep telling them, “Stop, we don’t point those at people.” But although my insides quail, I have to think this is really our problem and not theirs. Boys have always done this and the vast majority of them don’t ever hold a real gun in real life.


Abby December 19, 2012 at 9:35 am

Interesting. I was always surprised when my boys did it since we never talk about guns. But I guess they pick up on stuff from other kids. And you’re right that it’s probably more our issue than theirs.


Kathy at kissing the frog December 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm

With four boys, I share your philosophy to the letter. I was never going to let anyone buy my boys guns, etc..etc…, but somehow it just happens that they learn about guns and I’ll be darned if I know how. We have the talk all the time, too, and they will say, “But it’s just pretend, Mom.” This is what scares me. What about when it’s real?


Abby December 20, 2012 at 10:06 am

I hear you, Kathy. 4 boys – wow!


Angie Mizzell December 21, 2012 at 2:31 pm

So I read this, and came back to it when I finally had something to offer. Yes, my boys pretend to play with guns. Meaning they take other things and pretend they are guns. I don’t love this, but I keep my eye on them. They don’t have toy guns (aside from a nerf gun that I tossed when the darts got lost and the summertime water pistols) and I try to remind them that real guns can hurt people, don’t point in people’s faces, etc. The biggest thing I teach my sons is that it’s not okay to hurt people. Not okay. In any way. Those who have the right own guns should keep them locked up. If their gun falls into the hands of someone who shouldn’t have that gun, it’s on them.


Abby December 21, 2012 at 5:06 pm

My boys continue to ask me stumpers, though, like “Well, why do they even make guns, then?” If you ask me, that’s a good question.


Stacy October 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I have to say I am a pro-gun person. But I think that people with mental illnesses shouldn’t have access, kids should be taught to respect the guns, and kids should know that guns are deadly. But its not just guns. We were watching a cartoon and a guy feel down, a jeep ran over him, and the guy got back up and started running again. My 5 yr old said that was his favorite part and I had to pause the movie to explain that vehicles weigh a lot and getting ran over isn’t funny.


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