I recently read two blog posts (here and here) I could relate to, as the pacifist mother of boys who play with guns. Full disclosure: I had to re-write that first sentence a few times because the fact is, I never thought I’d be the mother of boys who play with guns. But if I’m totally honest, I am, and they do.
As my mother has reminded me on occasion, there were going to be no toy weapons in MY house. I could see no reason why children would ever need to re-enact violence of any kind. Yes, I heard the stories about boys making guns out of Barbie dolls and pieces of cheese. Wasn’t going to happen here.
We did well for a while—I remember the pride my husband and I felt when our first child had to ask what that toy was some kids on our street were playing with. He’d gotten to the age of three without recognizing a gun, even a toy one. Yes, combined with the fact he’d never eaten at McDonalds either, we were feeling pretty chuffed about our parenting.
It was probably not long after that that the first toy sword made it into our home. To be fair, I had suggested dress-up clothes as a gift idea, and probably specifically knights or pirates, both of which he was interested in at the time. And my sister gave me the accompanying sword off to the side, just in case. In fact, I had been tossing any gun or gun-like accessory that came with any toy he was given (we avoided purchasing any toys like that ourselves). Because that was the rule: no guns.
But I reasoned, how would a knight fight a dragon without a sword, and anyway, it’s not as if he’d actually ever get a real one and do damage with it. It was fantasy, totally unrealistic, and not the same as a toy gun. Not at all. Later, when a tussle between him and his baby brother ended in a poked eye, the sword went in the garbage. I wasn’t against toy swords per se, but clearly our boys were not ready for them. That lasted a few years, until the lightsabers arrived (with the caveat that if there’s any eye-poking, we all know where the lightsabers will end up.)
And then there was the question of water guns. They don’t LOOK real, and what kid doesn’t like to spray or get sprayed with water on a hot summer day? I tried to go with “squirters”, I even got some dinosaur heads that were supposed to spritz. They never worked. Nothing ever worked quite as well as a big ole gun, even if I refused to call it that. Not that that ever fooled my boys.
Eventually, other toy guns started trickling in. I’m not even sure how it happened—I suspect it was the Lego. A lot of our Lego belonged to my husband, and in the bin were some tiny guns and swords. It didn’t seem right to throw them out, they were practically antiques, and anyway, most of the new sets we were starting to accumulate had weapons; blasters or lightsabers or spears. I guess I could have “disappeared” them too, but…Besides, at this point the boys had realized they could BUILD a gun out of Lego. Or, you know, a piece of toast bitten in a certain way. Or a stick in just the right shape.
Then there are video games. Don’t panic: they don’t play “Call of Duty” or anything. But if you’ve ever played a video game, you might have noticed, many of them involve “blasting”, “zapping”, “spraying”, “targeting”. It’s sort of all shooting, isn’t it? I find it more and more difficult to tell them they can’t play games with guns in them, but can play games with “pea-shooters”.
Through all this, I’ve held on to a ban against realistic-looking, life-sized toy guns. Perhaps that’s not much of a standard. I guess my thinking has been, handguns are for killing people, and they are not fantasy in our world. Then again, swords weren’t just for decoration or polite fencing matches back in the day, so yes, you can question my fuzzy logic. Maybe I’m more zen, maybe I’m lazy, maybe I’ve given up. I don’t know. But I like to think I still have a line, even a faint one.
There is something else I hold on to though. My husband, who firmly believes no one needs a handgun, and agrees that there will never be a real one in our home, has fired guns. Has enjoyed playing first-person shooter games. And is one of the kindest, gentlest, most respectful, least violent people you’ll ever hope to meet. My boys—yeah, they play shooting games. And: they are also not particularly aggressive children. Knock wood, they have never been in a fight at school (to be honest, I worry they get pushed around by more aggressive kids if anything—but that’s another story). I’m not saying playing with toy guns, or seeing violence in movies and in video games, hasn’t had, or won’t have, an effect on them. But I do think it’s entirely possible this is very normal behavior after all, and that my boys will still grow up good men like their dad. And maybe even pacifists.