January 12, 2011


When I was growing up, we had a strict no toy gun rule in our house. After Beth and I had Mia and were confronted with the massive piles of plastic in toy form, we decided to adopt the same rule. We had great success enforcing this with Mia since she had absolutely no interest in guns. We've been less successful with Owen. And by less successful, I mean we're screwed. And I'm wondering if we shouldn't have seen that coming, if it wasn't a foregone conclusion.

In noodling this through, I started thinking about my friend Bill.

Bill was one of my greatest friends growing up, more of a brother than anything. We were born three days apart, lived a few houses away from each other on the same street. Our mothers were both teachers, eventually at the same school. I spent more time at Bill's house than I did any other house but my own. And one of my favorite things to do at Bill's house was to play guns. He had one - this little silver two-shooter with a pearl handle - that I loved the most. Only now do I realize that it's the type of gun a hooker would carry. But I didn't know that then. I only knew that I loved it when all the boys (and occasional girl, someone's younger sister or something) got together, chose sides and use the neighborhood as our battle field. Me and my hooker-gun took out plenty of bad guys.

Like I said, my parents didn't let me own toy guys. So how to explain this behavior? I have two theories which I think, working together, made this happen.

1. Be careful what you make taboo. My parents once told me they had friends who tried a little social experiment with their kids. They made coffee off-limits, told them it was the worst thing they could ever put in their bodies and warned them what would happen if they ever caught them with a cup. They soon discovered their kids were sneaking out in the middle of the night to drain pots of coffee at the local Denny's. Maybe making guns off-limits had a hand in my own behavior.

2. I'm a boy. Before we had Owen, I didn't know where to come down in the whole nature versus nurture argument. Now that I have Mia and Owen, it's startlingly obvious that there's an inherent difference between boys and girls that cannot be underestimated. Boys are pre-programmed to hit things with sticks, throw themselves off of furniture and turn anything into a gun.

This knowledge made me feel like much less of a parenting failure when, after I'd carefully drawn and cut out Stormtrooper masks for both Mia and Owen and refused to fashion guns out of the remaining cardboard, Owen shot me with plastic spork. Like Star Wars, you pick your battles and hope you don't get stuck on Hoth without a jacket. The rest is kind of up to the whims of The Force.

* We have no idea why, but Owen refers to guns as gummies. Like I said, no clue.

Posted by Chris at January 12, 2011 7:05 AM

I played with dolls and cars and toy guys and everything. I was a girlie tom boy. But then again. I was a 3rd child and by then I don't think my parent's noticed what I was doing.

Posted by: Maribeth at January 12, 2011 8:02 AM

Not true, he calls guns "shooters." "Gummies" are bullets.

Posted by: Mrs. Cactus at January 12, 2011 8:17 AM

My cousin has four boys and also said "no toy guns", and her kids turned everything else into guns! Bend one of Spiderman's legs, and voila, a gun. Seems to be a losing battle.

Posted by: Sandy at January 12, 2011 9:01 AM

We never bought guns or violent-type toys for our two sons, but if someone gave them a gift of a toy gun, we didn't take it away. They soon lost interest, and the guns disappeared.

Posted by: cassie-b at January 12, 2011 9:44 AM

You know, I'm anti-gun. But growing up, I loved to play guns. We wouldn't even come up with a cool name like cops and robbers. We'd just run around and pretend to shoot each other.

I think this is fine for boys and shouldn't be discouraged, but also shouldn't be graphically encouraged. Just let it happen and when they're old enough, you can talk about what it means to actually use a gun, shoot it, or even kill something. Until they're old enough to comprehend it and feel the emotion, I'm just going to let it go.

Posted by: Brad at January 12, 2011 9:59 AM

*pew pew* that would be the sound of my Owen shooting his finger gun. He is accurate too :)

Posted by: Rex at January 12, 2011 10:21 AM

But man alive, did I love my cap gun...

Posted by: k8 at January 12, 2011 10:24 AM

"Be careful what you make taboo."

That's the key statement right there. Someone said something similar to me a few years ago. The quote was "If you give a kid something to rebel against...they will."

Kinda sounds JUST like the Denny's Coffee Drinkers you mentioned.

Now, when I was growing up, there were guns in the house. I even had knowledge of where some of them were for as long as I can remember.

My father hunted and had his hunting rifles and one old handgun (Luger .44). I honestly don't remember NOT having gun safety drilled into my head. I just don't remember when it happened. I just always knew that:

A.) I didn't touch or even lay eyes on them inside their cases without my father or grandfather present.

B.) I did NOT know where the bullets were. Frankly, I didn't care. I didn't WANT to shoot the REAL guns. Those were for ADULTS.

There was no draw, no mystery. I had a toy gun that had been my father's. Oddly, it was one of those little hooker guns, but it had a REALLY SWEET holster with it and I thought I was Annie Oakley. :)

I grew up and joined the Army. I have known how to shoot for years. I still occasionally go to the range with my husband.

I'm neither a gun nut nor opposed to guns. I don't own any. I've taught my children safe use and handling. They have also seemed to adopt my "Healthy Respect" for weapons.

Especially with all that's been going on lately, it's a good issue to explore.

Personally, I'm gonna go with "moderation" on this one.

And while Owen pulled a spork, some kids will just pull out that finger and sound effects!

Picking battles, communication and education can go a long way to not having rebellious kids.

Although I like the quote I mentioned at the top, I have to say THAT also shouldn't be taken as gospel. Kids need boundaries and rules. They also need for parents to realize that "because I said so" only makes them curious to go look for the answers OUTSIDE of the safety of my home.

I have teenagers. My daughter is about to turn 16. She thinks I am the most AWESOME mom in the world. She came home the other night and told me that a friend of hers (male) had started asking her really personal questions and that he made her uncomfortable with some suggestive comments.

The fact that my TEENAGER comes home and says "Hey, I don't want to hang out with him anymore. He wants to have sex and he drinks.", just makes me REALLY proud.

It also holds some water for me that my methods so far haven't TOTALLY screwed them up. :) Yet...

Posted by: Holly Reynolds at January 12, 2011 10:25 AM

sigh. if only all wars were fought with gummies.....

Posted by: meanie at January 12, 2011 11:46 AM

Yeah, I can't help with that one because we had the same rules and now I find myself awash in Nerf guns and tiny little Lego guns. I totally agree that "Boys are pre-programmed to hit things with sticks, throw themselves off of furniture and turn anything into a gun" (except you left out the part about making more noise than humanly possible). We have modified our rules so that Elliot knows not to aim them at any real person. Yesterday when he was pretending to shoot deer I asked him "Are you planning on pretending to eat that deer too?" and after looking baffled for a second, he said yes. :)

Posted by: Elizabeth at January 12, 2011 12:13 PM

I agree. There is a serious difference in boys and girls. After having two girls (both who are major tomboys) and then a boy? He's such a boy. Everything needs to be thrown. Everything is a ball. Or a car. Every surface is climbable and therefore, jump off-able. Currently everything that resembles a stick, or pen or well anything...is a bay-ball bat. Because of course it is.

Not sure what I will do on the gun thing. Harrison is just two and hasn't quite found out about guns yet. I know it's coming though. My mom had a HUGE no guns policy. Yeah. Didn't work so well. My brother used everything else as a gun.

Posted by: Issa at January 12, 2011 12:14 PM

My parents had three daughters and the three sons. Like you, they had no issues with banning toy guns for us girls but when the boys arrived it quickly became clear that not buying toy guns for them simply meant that they would just fashion their own out of sticks, etc. They gave up.

I haven't really thought about his before (mine arrived at advanced ages so I didn't have much say over what toys they had :) though I suspect my instinct would have been the same as yours- no guns. But I think teaching your kids right from wrong doesn't necessarily have to mean banning play with weapons. I mean, if you think about it, how is it okay for them to play Storm Troopers (violent bad guys) as long as they don't have guns? Acting out the good guy vs bad guy scenario by playing either part is part of childhood and learning about the difference between good and evil, right?

Posted by: Jess at January 12, 2011 1:05 PM

I have 3 sons (no girls). We had a no gun rule as well...until the legos and tinkertoys became guns.

At that point we chose to limit guns to the ones that *look* totally fake, as in, they needed to know the difference between real and fake, and fake ones were okay to play with, but real ones? They required healthy respect, along with lessons about how real guns killed and that doesnt mean you will see the dead guy alive on tv next week..and that dead means forever. Lessons...

when we gave in to the fake guns we also had a no-projectile rule- someone was always getting shot and apparently nerf bullets *hurt* (heheheh). That was all banished by the time they were all teens...

I think respect for weapons and knowing the real life repercussions is important...even if you have to describe them in a toddler language and grow the lessons as they grow.

I also agree that if you ban something entirely, you are asking for a rebellion.

Good luck!

Posted by: 3jaysmom at January 12, 2011 2:29 PM

We have the same no guns rule. My 2.5 year old son- who has never played with a toy gun anywhere before, will turn his sippy cup into a gun! Anything really. I think its nature.

Posted by: alfredsmom at January 12, 2011 2:40 PM

I was at a playgroup the other day, our first time attending, and one of the other little boys ran up and tattled to his mom that "that other boy (perhaps mine, I am not sure) was making guns with his fingers and shooting them!!!"

We have guns, as you say, anything becomes a gun and they make excellent bribes. We also live in gun country and everyone we know (except us) seems to have a gun cabinet. It's hard to take a no gun stance when you live in hunting country.

Posted by: Lisa at January 12, 2011 5:38 PM

I had a love for cap guns growing up, (three brothers)so we did play cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians etc, and we all grew up to be good, Prozac free citizens. I have all girls so it is not a problem in my house, but I have friends who have the same rule and I respect it completely, I just don't understand it.

Posted by: Shannon at January 12, 2011 10:34 PM

We've tried the go-with-the-flow tactic and so far it's working OK. Guns are allowed around, but absolutely no "shooting" or even aiming at people or animals. If the boy (it's mostly the boy, of course, for the reasons you mention) is going to pretend, he's going to immerse all the way and you don't fuck around with guns.

I've a similar stance with Barbie (and other toys I don't like): I won't provide them (gifts, etc), but they don't get tossed if they receive them as gifts.

Even food. We don't ever eat at McDonalds, but the fries are a tasty treat once in a while.

Posted by: harmzie at January 12, 2011 10:59 PM

You can set the rules with guns by having a respectful attitude toward the weapon. My bigger concern is with Bratz dolls. They scare me way more than guns. Way more than Barbie even. There is sensuality as well as sexuality and the attitude from Bratz is way more dangerous than guns et al.

Posted by: jossisboss at January 13, 2011 1:40 AM

You can set the rules with guns by having a respectful attitude toward the weapon. My bigger concern is with Bratz dolls. They scare me way more than guns. Way more than Barbie even. There is sensuality as well as sexuality and the attitude from Bratz is way more dangerous than guns et al.

Posted by: jossisboss at January 13, 2011 1:41 AM

Yeh, we tried to be pragmatic about the gun thing. Our rule was no guns that looked like real guns (there are disturbingly many exact replicas of AK 47's and 9 mm handguns...)

So 'star wars' shooters and nerfs came and went. We also had the talk when they were old enough about the reality of guns in society (we are against) but certainly the UK and Canada are less extreme.

We were also equal opportunity toy haters ....

no guns..... no barbies (rag dolls perfectly acceptable)

So far so good :)

Posted by: english thorn at January 13, 2011 12:29 PM

This is one of the issues that makes me glad I'm Canadian, I must admit. I know that it's nowhere near perfect up here, but it seems easier. I grew up with guns in the house, since my Dad was RCMP, but never had any grand fascination with them, but then, I have three sisters and no brothers, so I don't know how that would've worked out if the males (Dad, and the dog...) hadn't been so drastically outnumbered. I think that I have a healthy respect for guns, and a good understanding that even in well-trained hands, they are dangerous. (Definitely less dangerous than in the hands of a mentally ill, angry, or vengeful person - but of course those people can also be well-trained - but still.)
I think that there are more rational and less destructive ways to protect oneself.

Posted by: Heather at January 13, 2011 3:49 PM

i had a psychology professor who said "there is no difference between boys and girls before the age of 2". My response? "Then explain why my 12 month old son, and his female cousin, who is 2 weeks older than he is, are so different. She builds up the blocks. He knocks them over. She cuddles the stuffed animal. He jumps on it."

And toy guns? We have a collection of nerf guns and let me tell you? AWESOME. Our son got the stampede for Christmas and my husband is having more fun with it than he is! We had a HUGE nerf war one night, all the guns came out and all of us, including our 6 year old daughter, had a blast. BUT I will also say that we have a few rifles (all locked away with the ammo in a separate location) and we help our son and daughter when they want to use the BB Gun (which is also locked away). Up here in VT almost every guy owns at least one rifle, so our take is that we teach them how to behave around them (he'll be going to hunter's safety course within the next few years) so that both children respect firearms.

Posted by: Randi at January 14, 2011 10:40 AM