I’ve got two kids, so I’m quite accustomed to wiping urine, poop or other odd substances off the floor, but what I found in the corner of my basement the other day made my heart stop. While I was doing a deep clean on our house, I came across something that terrified me. It wasn’t a spider or a mouse or a rogue nomad who had taken refuge underneath our house, but rather a toy sitting behind old boxes and junk, alone in a dust-covered corner.
It was a toy gun. A toy rifle, to be more specific. I don’t know who or where it came from, but its presence alone in my house made my blood run cold.
My son happened to be with me during this particular cleaning purge, and when he noticed the toy rifle, his face lit up. He immediately grabbed it and began an imaginary shoot-out. I’m not sure whether he was a cop or a robber or a pirate or an action hero, but regardless of the character he was playing, I wasn’t OK with the actions he was portraying.
I grabbed the plastic rifle and attempted to explain to my almost 3-year-old that shooting the imaginary villains in our basement wasn’t something that should be considered fun. I explained to him that hurting other people, imaginary or not, wasn’t good or acceptable and that shooting the pretend pirates in our basement wouldn’t make him a hero. I didn’t tell him that guns are bad but rather that they’re not toys. Plastic or not, guns aren’t something anyone shouldn’t take seriously.
I was born in Texas and raised in Tennessee, where guns were a fairly typical part of an upbringing. I’ve spent my entire life around guns. I’ve learned to both respect and fear them, and I was taught from an early age about the very necessary safety precautions I should take when one was in my presence. Now that I’m raising boys of my own, I fully intend to teach them those same lessons about guns and gun safety.
When my toddler went Rambo in our basement, I realized those lessons needed to be taught sooner rather than later.
I do my best to shield my children from the chaos running amok in our country. If the TV is on in our house while the kids are awake, it’s never on the news, and if something my kids are watching features violence of any kind, it’s immediately turned off. It’s not that I don’t think they should eventually be aware of the harsh realities in our world — those are lessons I will unfortunately have to teach them at some point — but not yet, not at 3 years old. So when my son was portraying what looked like a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie in the midst of our junk-infested basement, I couldn’t control my bewilderment. I kept asking myself where he had even seen someone use a gun? Where did he figure out how to pull that pretend trigger, and who made him feel like having a gun equated to him also having power or bravery or invincibility?
I honestly don’t know who gave him the gun. I don’t remember ever seeing it unwrapped at a birthday party or during Christmas, and I certainly know that its purchase wasn’t made by my husband or by me. What I do know is that although I support the Second Amendment, I do not consider giving my toddler a toy gun without asking me first OK.
I am the one who has to teach my children about the power of guns. I am the one who has to teach them about the magnitude of guns. I am the one who has to teach them about the consequences that could possibly accompany guns, and I’m also the one who gets to decide when my kids are ready to receive these messages. Buying my kid a toy gun before I’m prepared to teach them about gun responsibility sends a message to him that guns are no big deal, which is the opposite of the message I want to send.
Gun ownership comes with responsibility, and part of that responsibility involves teaching children the magnitude of a gun’s presence. If I allow my children to believe that a plastic gun is innocent and fun and normal, they’ll grow up believing that a real gun is the same thing. They’ll grow up thinking that the Wild West they portray before nap time is how the real world functions. They’ll grow up thinking that the toy guns they played with as children could be the solution to the world’s very real problems.
I’m a mother who owns guns, yes, but that ownership is carried with a very serious understanding of its power, and allowing my children to frivolously fight with their plastic rifles completely contradicts the responsibility I hope to teach them. If I allow my kids to grow up playing cops and robbers and pointing their unloaded fingers at their friends, I’m essentially loading the very real guns that might find their way into their hands in the future. That’s why a gun’s presence, plastic or not, should never be taken lightly, and that’s precisely why no one is ever allowed to buy my children toy guns.
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