(Photo via Flickr/louiscrusoe)
In rural Kentucky last week, a five-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his sister with a rifle designed for children. It was a tragedy, a shock, and a window into a cultural divide -- rekindling old debates about gun culture, when to teach kids about handling weapons, the ethics of marketing firearms to children.
But as we ask tough questions about kids and real guns, many parents are also fretting about toy guns. So much for nostalgia over B.B. guns; since Columbine, many parents have banned even plastic guns and pistols. Rhode Island has helped kids exchange toy guns for other gifts. New York City only allows the sale of toy guns that are brightly colored. Some water "guns" today are shaped like cylinders. Have parents gotten wise, or is pretend gun play a natural part of kids' lives? Do you let your kids play with toy guns? Have you taught them to handle real firearms? Or do you ban fake guns from the house? Below are a range of opinions about real guns and toy guns for kids. Add yours to the comments below, or tweet at the hashtag #GunPlay.
Being trustful without being reckless
I'm an advocate of trustful parenting; I don't believe in overprotecting kids. But the idea that a company would be allowed to manufacture 22-caliber rifles designed for small children or that any parent would give such a weapon to a five-year-old defies common sense. Anthropologists tell us that the superstars of trustful parenting are parents in hunter-gatherer cultures. They allow very small children to play with sharp knives and with little bows and arrows, because that's how children learn to use these tools. But they keep the poison arrow tips used for hunting far out of young children's reach.
Research Professor of Psychology at Boston College, author of Free to Learn.
Child-sized guns are designed to teach safety
While it’s only natural to try to draw lessons from tragedies, we should be wary of attempts to recast this as a morality play about the evils of “gun culture.” Gun ownership is simply a deeply rooted fact of life for people in many parts of the country. This means they understand better than most how dangerous firearms can be and they teach their children to be safe around them from an early age. Guns scaled down to child-size were intended to make it easer to for kids to learn to shoot them safely. This family made a terrible mistake - but teaching kids about guns is integral, not just to keeping them safe but to teaching them to what responsible gun ownership really means.
Nancy McDermott, parenting blogger
Reaction to "Youth Day" at the recent NRA convention
Should we ban toy guns?
A toy that looks fake vs. a toy that looks real
It is quite reasonable and developmentally appropriate for children to play with toys that actually shoot/launch things (water, foam, plastic, balls, and even marshmallows) out of them. Children also need time and space to simply use their imaginations while engaging in pretend play activities that may or may not involve toy guns. However, if a toy gun could be mistaken for a real gun, adult common sense should recognize that this is a bad idea. It’s an adult’s responsibility to make thoughtful toy selections for the children in their lives.
Jay Ritchie, M.Ed
Owner, The Toy Box in Hanover, MA
Trusting kids to tell reality from fantasy
Toy guns are no more the cause of violence than toy kitchen sets are the cause of obesity. Hundreds of millions of men grew up with toy guns and never turned to a life of spasmodic violence. On this issue, kids seem a lot more sophisticated than their parents. They know it's just a game.
Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Law, Georgetown University
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