Do Toy Guns Turn Kids into Killers?

Hi Readers — Here’s another question that arrived in th email. It began,  “Can we talk about gunplay for a few minutes?” Happily, by “gunplay” they writer didn’t mean, “What’s the upside of random shootings?” But rather, “Is it okay for kids to play around, pretending to shoot each other?”

While it drives me crazy when one of my sons puts his hand up to his brother’s temple and pantomimes “Pow!”, I totally love it when they get out their Nerf guns and run around playing shoot ’em up. I used to think toy guns were a tool of depravity. Now I think they’re toys…that happen to be guns.  So onward to the reader’s letter:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I had no idea how far the hysteria over gun play had gone these days until my son got in trouble for it last week at school.

The thing is, he wasn’t playing with a gun. He and his friends were playing with sticks. And since they were well aware of the rule against “gun play” (the rule that I had previously been ignorant of), they weren’t even pretending that the sticks were guns; they were pretending that they were crossbows.

By nobody’s report were they bothering anybody. The game involved the 5 or so boys who were happily playing with each other and that was the scope of it.

For this, my son and his band of friends were prohibited from sitting with each other at lunch for a day, and were banned from the school playground “until further notice.” At recess, they had to stay under close supervision on the blacktop.

Now, my husband happens to work at the school and he spoke with some of the staff members involved, which resulted in them reinstating the boys’ playground privileges 2 days later. But my husband also found out that the rule against gunplay is mandated by the state, so there’s no use in complaining to the principal; this is a legislative matter.

I suppose I should be thankful that that’s as far as it went. At no point was suspension or any other wild overreaction even mentioned. A friend I spoke with after this happened mentioned that when her son had been in first grade, he was threatened with suspension for making a threat against a friend to “shoot her with his BB gun.” Never mind that he didn’t even have a BB gun, it was actually a Nerf gun. Never mind that he didn’t have it with him at the time, and never mind that these two kids were good friends who loved to tease each other. Regardless, if he did it again, he’d be suspended.

My son is a gentle-natured boy who’s normally more interested in climbing trees than playing shoot-’em-up, so we don’t have much gunplay at home. But even if we did — seriously, these are kids, and it’s imaginary play. I know the difference, and so do kids. It’s only the grownups who seem to struggle with the distinction.

Based on the little bit of Googling I did, it seems there’s no proven correlation between gunplay and real aggression. Some have even suggested that prohibiting gunplay could have the opposite effect and make guns a tempting forbidden fruit.

I understand that events like Columbine have scared the crap out of people, but I have a hard time seeing how playing with a few sticks on the playground is going to turn kids into murderers. -Cindy H.

Stop? PHOTO CREDIT: woodleywonderworks, on Flickr. http://bit.ly/97MUu3