Last week I shared my views on gun control, which can be summed up by saying I am in favour of tight controls on firearm use and ownership. I have never shot or handled a real gun. This is probably not surprising when you consider that I am a Canadian who was raised by hippies. But what may be surprising is that my personal gun ban only extends so far. In particular, I am totally okay with my kids engaging in make-believe gun play.
While we don’t have any toy guns in our house, kids are smart. They can make a gun out of almost anything. The unplugged hot glue gun they find in my craft cupboard. A piece of cardboard that was originally used to hold my new socks in the proper shape. A stick. Their own hands. When I see them pretending to shoot at each other, I leave them to their game, as long as everyone is having fun. I do this because I believe that real guns are dangerous, but gun play is not.
As a child of hippies, gun play was forbidden in my house when I was growing up. I don’t remember this being too much of an issue for me. I find it somewhat ironic, though, considering that as a child my mother was a huge fan of Dale Evans, the cowgirl. She had a full cowgirl costume and a toy gun to match. She still grew into the pacifist who refused to allow toy weapons into her home. Clearly, in her case, playing with toy guns did not lead to violence in adulthood or even a comfort with the real thing. In fact, research says that allowing kids to simulate violence does not lead to increased violence in later life.
Kids learn to understand their world through play. As a parent, I have definitely seen this. Whatever my kids are excited about, interested in or scared of comes out through their play. Gun play is no different. Violence permeates our culture. Our kids see images of guns everywhere. Allowing them to role play gives them an outlet to experiment and understand their feelings, free of serious consequences. In the process, they’re integrating the realities of life in healthy, age-appropriate ways. On the flip side, refusing to allow children to role play can have negative consequences.
Obviously, it’s important that kids understand the difference between real guns and toys. We don’t want a child to pick up and play with a real gun. We also want to make sure that toy guns kids don’t look like the real thing. This helps everyone, kids and parents and neighbours and police officers, to differentiate between safe play and a dangerous weapon. Confusion can have devastating and even deadly results. There’s a story in my own family from a couple of generations ago in which a child accidentally shot and killed her sibling. I’m not in any way advocating that kids shouldn’t understand the danger a real gun presents.
When we’re clear on the difference between guns and gun play, though, there’s no danger. And so I see no reason to forbid my children from pretending to shoot each other with my hair dryer. In time, they’ll outgrow this, just as they’ve outgrown many other games. Until then, as long as everyone’s having fun, I will be the pacifist who pretends to fall over dead when her kids point a stick at her and shout Bang!
How do you feel about gun play, or role-playing with weapons?