As the fall out of this unimaginable horror continues to fill the news I question whether it is ok for my boys to play with toy guns.
The simple answer is no. It is not ok.
But is it quite so straight forward?
Today, in the light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut it is easy to say that there could be no more inappropriate sight than watching children play in the streets with toy guns, pretending to shoot each other.
I grew up in the UK playing with toy guns. I imagine the majority of boys around the world were doing the same. You could buy plastic guns with the sheriff badge, plastic rifles you could lock and load, cap guns with the red circular plastic rounds that made a popping noise. There were metal cap guns, spud guns that fired bits of potatoes and guns that produced sparks when you shot them.
These toys are still available. And there are more. A quick google search for “buy children’s toy guns” returns over 62 million hits. There are even specific websites for buying toy guns for children.
Toy guns that fire foam bullets are the rage at the moment. My boys would love one. To be honest, so would I. They look great. So much fun. As a young boy I was chased and chased others with toy guns around the streets. We played cowboys and Indians. We pretended to shoot each other. We copied action heroes. We played cops and robbers.
Violence on TV is much more graphic these days. Video games are the same. But the essence of good versus evil is still there. Is it wrong for my boys to want to run around the garden shooting each other, pretending to be the hero and saviour of the world? Not only is this in their faces all day, every day, but it is an inherent male characteristic. The hunter and gatherer. The provider. It feels wrong today considering what has just happened. But will it next month?
The 50’s and 60’s were a time for Cowboys and Indians. John Wayne was the hero of Stagecoach and The Alamo.
The 70’s saw Dirty Harry, The Rockford Files, Kojak and Hawaii 5-0 shoot the screen up and kill the bad guys.
The 80’s had Cagney and Lacey, Chips, Magnum and Miami Vice patrolling the streets, shooting down drug lords.
The 90’s saw Rambo and The Terminator compete for body counts. Children continued to copy their moves.
Laser tag and paint balling have become popular pastimes with the aim of ‘ killing’ each other. Shooting is an Olympic sport. Legal hunting occurs all over the world. We run round swimming pools shooting water over each other.
I don’t think I will ever go so far as to ‘ban’ toy guns from the house. I will never buy them a toy gun. I will discourage them from playing with them, and explain the reasons why. The toy gun that came into my house last week, given to Zak by a neighbour, has discreetly found its way to the bin. So far that has gone unnoticed.
To fly a plane, drive a long haul trailer, pilot a cruise ship, commandeer a tank or drive a car you legally require formal training. You have to undergo rigorous tests. To operate some machines you need training and psychological evaluations. Then you need to sit a series of test before getting a licence.
But today I can walk into a supermarket in America and buy a gun with my bread and milk.
That, I don’t understand.