A few months ago, thousands of children in Collierville went into lockdown mode. Toddlers, elementary students, tweens, and high school kids all huddled in closets or bathrooms and held their breath as they realized that this time it wasn’t a drill.
As I sat in line to pick up my kids that day, my mind filled with images of terrified children hiding and not knowing what was happening, then worrying something may have happened to someone they love. Parents had difficult and heavy conversations with their children that night and the following days, assuring them nobody actually had a gun at their school, but thinking about what if a shooter HAD been there. (Literally days after that shooting, I got an alert about a child shot at Cummings Elementary School in Memphis.)
I was answering questions about why someone did this, was the “bad guy” caught, and can you please never go in a grocery store again. My kids assumed Kroger was being robbed, because the idea of someone entering a place with the intent to kill hadn’t entered their minds. Oh, how I wish it never had to enter their minds at all.
But this is the reality: while my own school years only included fire and tornado drills, lockdown drills for active shooter situations are now part of the routine.
Jerri Green recently shared a beautifully-written post about how we need to talk about this stuff RIGHT NOW. How we need to take action and make changes to keep our communities safe. And for me, that actually relates to a stance I’ve had all along: children should not play with toy guns.
I know this sounds extreme to some. People will argue a Nerf gun is harmless, and they’ll say I’m overreacting. But please hear me out. When guns are available as toys, kids may not fully grasp their power – or the danger associated with them. Some toy guns are extremely realistic, so what if a kid thinks a gun is a toy but is mistaken? After all, Tamir Rice was killed by police because trained officers thought his toy looked real.
“But this is just how boys play. They turn everything into a weapon.” Yes, that has been my experience as well. And I quickly tell my kids not to pretend their hands or other things are weapons, but I do see a big difference in a stick “sword” and a toy gun that is designed to look realistic. The purpose of a gun is to injure or kill (yes, sometimes in self defense, but the goal to injure or kill remains even in those circumstances). I don’t want my children hurting anyone else, so why should I encourage them to pretend to do this? I certainly don’t want my kids to get some sort of euphoria from blasting something with a pretend weapon, whether it’s a physical toy or a violent video game.
I find myself completely agreeing with this article by Michelle Ruiz. This line in particular really hit home: “But if Barbies arguably possess the power to body shame little girls, and princesses can mess with their sense of independence, then can’t guns, even if just subliminally, sanction violence?”
I’m not asking people to give up their guns. I know I’d never succeed in that effort anyway. I am asking that people consider what kids are learning from using a toy gun. Is it planting a seed of violence in those growing brains? Are they becoming desensitized to the power and danger of a gun? Could they see a real gun one day and mistake it for a toy? Is this toy really worth it?
I fully expect people will disagree with my views here. I know I’m likely in the minority with my stance, and I did some research to see if there are studies about the impacts of playing with toy guns. To my surprise, there is no real evidence that toy guns lead to increased aggression or violence. That’s astonishing to me, but it still doesn’t make me eager to put a toy gun in my kids’ hands. I find it hard to believe that pretending to kill someone with a gun wouldn’t have some lasting impact.
I recently asked another mom if her family has guns in their home. I asked via text and was sweaty and nervous as I awaited her reply. She told me I should not feel weird about asking and assured me their gun is locked and kids do not know how to access it. This is a question we all need to be asking before our kids go to a friend’s home. And as this mother said to me, “if someone gets upset by this question, you probably don’t want your kid hanging out around that family anyway.” She’s right, and I think it’s a good way to look at this.
I know my kids are going to play at homes where their buddies have toy guns. I don’t love it, but I cannot control what toys another family has. I know they’ll end up wanting to use these toys, but that doesn’t mean I have to encourage it. We will continue to be a completely gun-free home, and I hope others will consider doing the same.
If you have guns in your home, please ensure they are properly locked and stored where children cannot get to them.