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Should Children Play With Toy Guns?

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I never allowed my eldest son, now nearly 19, to play with toy guns, swords etc. If I discovered he had borrowed, found, or been given a toy weapon, my immediate reaction was always to confiscate the item; he would be psychologically damaged otherwise, according to contemporary thinking; he might become a murderer! These days, he is very sociable and popular; a musician and trainee chef; a decent, hardworking young man, but a tough cookie who takes no crap from bullies and will fight if attacked. I put this down to testosterone.

I have stuck, so far, to the same principle with my younger kids; no toy guns, no toy weapons of any type allowed. My youngest son, aged seven, spent most of this morning joyfully tracking goldfinches and looking for caterpillars for the sheer pleasure of admiring their colours and habits. He says the finches hop onto the bottom of dandelion stalks and then do tightropes along them, flattening them to the ground so they can peck at the seed-head. He is worried that a black-and-red moth he found yesterday in undergrowth has hardly moved since then, and may be ill. He is very gentle with all living creatures, and deplores the slightest unkindness to even the smallest insect. However, after lunch, my daughter came home to tell me that her brother had found a toy gun whilst looking for a nest in a hedge. My immediate reaction was to check and make sure it wasn't a real one. What a sad sign of the times we are led to believe we live in. A real gun in a hedge in a suburb of an English city? The possibility seemed real.

Keeping as calm as possible, I strolled out to see and found him with a very fine toy machine gun, green and yellow camouflage with automatic rattling fire; and what was this gentle little soul, this brown-eyed teddy bear in human form, doing? He was playing at murdering four of his friends as they cycled around our cul-de-sac! All were having a delightful time, laughing and shrieking. I opened my mouth to speak against the toy, against the game, but as I did so I remembered the great fun we had playing Cops and Robbers and Cowboys and Indians as children. I saw the happiness on the kids' faces as they swerved and veered to avoid being shot; I saw cooperation and coordination, fresh air and exercise. I understood it. I left them to it. I didn't feel guilty – I feel differently now than I did in my twenties about this. I thought breaking up the sociability, disappointing him in front of his friends could be more damaging than sticking to my guns, so I let the play-massacre continue.

They wanted to know if they could keep the gun. I said I'd think about it, but the mean look my daughter gave me as she aimed and fired was somewhat unnerving. I hadn't formed a full opinion on this yet. I decided the issue of property rights would be my focus, and they would have to put the toy back where they found it.

Hours later, a loud argument broke out amongst all the kids on the street over who should possess the gun on a more permanent basis. This resulted in a summit meeting of neighbourhood mothers. The gun's in the bin, now, with the rest of the garbage. My little girl doesn't care — in fact, she agrees it's the right thing to do — but the boys are particularly unhappy and grouchy.

I'm back to the no-guns-no-weapons rule. It seems correct, but it doesn't seem much fun to my inner child or to my youngest son.

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About Elaine Borthwick

  • Constance

    Great article. I don’t buy my son guns but i’ve seen him use a stick as a gun. I just leave him alone and let him play with his friends also.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Yup. Kids can pretend pretty much anything is a gun. I had toy guns but if I couldn’t find them, or there weren’t enough to go round me and my friends for a game of war, I’d find a suitably-shaped stick or assemble some Lego and that would serve the purpose. Or even just use my fingers and pretend.

    All you can do is educate your kids, when they’re old enough to understand, as to what real guns do and the fact that they’re not toys.

  • Raised with guns

    I was raised in the southern US and had total access to guns in my childhood. I also lived in the Atlanta suburbs not the country and would grab my rifle after school and head off to the woods to target practice or shoot whatever varmint got in my way. In those days nobody cared because kids didn’t go around shooting other kids. The reason is because the only violence we were exposed were movies featuring cowboys fighting Indians or the Army fighting our enemies. The gun violence problem today is not about guns it’s about the sick and demented societal messages our kids are exposed to in the movies and on TV.

    Is there no male in your household to help put guns in a proper perspective with the kids? Women will never understand this topic.

  • The Texan woman I met on a train in London knew more about guns and gun-issues than their dad does. He could re-string your guitar for you, though.

  • sr

    Raised with guns. Thank you. You just saved me time because I agree with you. High Heels, not to be disrespectful but dont raise little boys or little girls to become pussies. If you dont teach them and show them what real guns can do and someday they find the real thing it will become a tragedy. I say this out of concern for your children. Both my son and daughter know firearms well. They have been taught to shoot them from and early age and both know the destructive power they can cause.

  • Sr,

    I’m not raising my kids to be “pussies”, I’m raising them to be reasonably rounded, healthy, educated, happy human beings, as best as I can.

    They have seen and handled real firearms and seen the effects they can cause, in an appropriate and safe setting… The Royal Armouries Museum. They don’t need to drive a car to learn how they can be hurt by traffic, and they know a bright yellow and green plastic toy gun when they see one. They know what to do if they see a needle or a syringe or a firweork, even one that looks burnt out and soggy, or a box of matches or a lighter or a drinks bottle containing liquid, or a knife or a blade. However, I take your point safety – wise; and I will talk to them about telling an adult if they see anything that could be a real weapon.

  • sr

    Thank you High Heels. I love kids and hope I did not offend you. Old sr can be quite a jerk at times. Just depends on my Capt Morgan consumption. God bless your children my dear.

  • Nope. not at all, but thanks – I realise you and I live in quite different cultures, but ours is changing, and there’s always something we can learn from people with more experience and, unfortunately in this case, more to worry about. Best, HH

  • PS I prefer Old Navy 😉

  • Dr Dreadful

    And there’s another aspect of the culture difference, HH: over in the good old USS of A, Old Navy is a clothing store. You had me scratching the old bonce there for a second.

  • Raised with guns

    Based on the conversation it appears that you live across the pond where only criminals have guns. In America we’re more evenly matched.

  • Thanks all for your comments. I thought the Old Navy might cause a little confusion, but I was in a mischievous mood! Yep, criminals have them here. Also farmers and hunters, but they don’t tend to live round here and I believe they have to keep them locked up.

    Have just given my children their pre-going-out talk and I’ve added anything that might be a gun to the list of hazards they have to come back and report, but not touch. I feel they’re a bit wiser now. HH

  • gurL guns

    I say is not ms Heel a bit paranoid about toy guns.
    Boys should be boys. Unless you want your boy to
    timid like a girl or you may had wished, I only
    wanted girls. Shame on you.

  • Um, no…. I’m happy with what and who I have as children, and guns are an issue for everyone, not just for boys.

  • sr

    HH#12. If you find a gun dont touch and tell an adult. Perfect. That as been the slogan of the NRA directed at children for almost 50 years. It as saved many young lives. I have been a member of the NRA for more years that I care to remember. You as a mother love your children and Im sure you will make the wise decisions to protect them. Take care. sr

  • sr

    Even after nineteen years it’s a learning curve, as I’m certain you know yourself: but the advantage of experience is you learn what advice might be helpful and what kind of judgements to allow to wash over us because it’s done to make us feel inadequate. Ultimately I have a choice about how I raise my children; with so many different opinions and beliefs, of course, we have to reject some and accept others, and trust our gut feeling that we have taken one of the useful approaches, something that we can live with.

    Good advice, well intended and based on experience and love of children is always worth consideration, if it might help our children. Thanks again for yours.

  • Raised with guns

    HH #12 as well, I believe that you Brits can’t legally own anything other than a shotgun or specific long arms and as you say they must be checked in and out at the local gun repository (i.e. not kept at home). I’m not sure what you are worried about since only the criminals in England will have the kinds of guns that your kid’s toys mimic. As sr #15 noted the NRA (I’m NOT a member) does promote the same messages as you have regarding what a child should do if they encounter a weapon.

  • Well, I’m not so much worried about easy access to guns; as you say, it doesn’t exist. It is always possible that a criminal could ditch a gun in a hedge if running from the police I guess, and in other parts of this city guns are becoming quite common amongst young gang members and there have been some gun murders. As I said initially, I have been going along with a general consensus in thsi country which seemed to have reached its peak in the eighties and stayed there that toy guns aren’t appropriate playthings, that they encourage violence etc. I noticed, flicking through the Read-Me pages of one of the books on Amazon advertised on this page (not a plug!) that the psychologist who first suggested discouraging gunplay in educational settings was quite shocked to discover that this had been translated by practitioners in nurseries etc into zero tolerance of all aggressive role play and even making a gun of lego or a stick, which precludes a lot of boys’ play. Ive become more confident now that I’ve gone into a second phase of motherhood [I wasnt much more than a girl the first time ;)] so I’m trying to be less narrow about the type of expression and experience I consone for my kids, but working out the limits is an ongoing line of thought for all parents I would think.

    I should say, that I’m not a violent person despite having played endlessly with toy guns as a kid, but I could fight to defend myself if I had to, having fought my brother and cousins in endless playfights as a kid- and I’m glad of it.

    So. Any more questions, I’ll be happy to answer in another long and rambling comment, but I don’t really have much else to say, except a toy gun round here is a matter of interest hehe. 🙂
    Thanks for commenting.

  • In a rational society, when your child shows an interest in guns you would be able to take him down to the local firing range and show him how to shoot a gun and explain to him what guns are for and how to properly respect the threat which they represent. I realize that’s not possible in the UK these days, but that’s the way it ought to be in a free and reasonable society.

    My girls have shown little interest in guns, but a friend had a daughter who showed an interest at an early age. He took her to the range at the age of 6, taught her to shoot and continued to support her interest into her teens, including accompanying her to regional and national shooting competitions, an awful lot of which she won.

    Not a bad thing. Perfectly healthy and appropriate sporting use of guns. She’s never shown any interest in shooting people or even animals.

    Guns are not evil, whether toy guns or real guns. It’s the use to which they are put and the intentions of those using them which are the problem. Would the author of the article have been concerned if their child was playing ‘gangsters’ without guns, but glorifying the lives of violent criminals? Or was it just the use of the gun – an inherently harmless object – which was the concern? That would be a serious misdirection of parental caution.


  • The proper sporting interests of one person have very little to do with the broader question of whether an armed society is a good way to live, so your point doesn’t have much relevance. Nice diversion though 🙂

  • “Would the author of the article have been concerned if their child was playing ‘gangsters’ without guns, but glorifying the lives of violent criminals? Or was it just the use of the gun – an inherently harmless object – which was the concern? That would be a serious misdirection of parental caution.”

    I wouldn’t have been worried about playing gangsters either, any more or less than I was about him playing massacres. Role-play is important in childhood development I think, including taking on the role of “bad” people, monsters, predatory animals etc., and can be very cathartic – and fun.
    As I think I’ve explained, my initial reaction to the presence of the toy gun was a reaction based on a culturally accepted norm here in the UK, particularly amongst the middle classes, that toy guns are distasteful. As I’ve said, I put my reaction in check on the basis of my experience in parenting now that I’m older and have a new set of youngsters to bring up.

    I won’t buy a toy gun, mainly because of the fact that most of the kids aren’t allowed one is likely to cause more problems regarding sharing, taking turns, and kids not being allowed to do so because their parents don’t want them to. A gun is not inherently harmless – quite the reverse: it is designed to destroy, damage, injure, kill, and a toy gun represents these attributes. It’s the drama of the pretend danger they enjoyed.

    I do like to hear other people’s views about their own parenting. It’s interesting that some people have chosen to criticise me directly whilst at the same time extolling the virtues of “freedom”. Here in the UK, it is extremely rare to find someone who will criticize other parents’ practices; we consider that we all have freedom of choice within the law as to how we bring our children up. That’s freedom. We also allow ourselves to be influenced by the current trends and tastes of our peers and ideology, to greater and lesser degrees; that’s culture. That’s how I see it.

    Thanks for more, interesting , comments! HH

  • sr

    To my gun friends dont you think It’s far better to inform then be critical. It’s like a bad temper. When you lose it you only accomplish two things. You make a fool out of yourself or regret your actions. Maybe some day HH will win a shooting competition. I would love to instruct her. My wife can outshoot me with her revolver however I kick her ass with my glock. Have watched my son and daughter blow up watermelons with my AK 47 using tracer rounds. Damn I love guns.

  • The funny thing is, having held a gun at the Armouries, I can imagine that I WOULD like to learn to shoot. I like to learn things that require precision. Plus, my inner child would like me to be able to be a sharp-shooter who can get the gun off the baddie and shoot his hat off as a warning not to move. If I ever get the time….


  • sr

    HH. Your right on target. Have a great day. sr

  • Raised with guns

    Sounds like you’re coming around. Remember, a gun is only as dangerous as its operator.

    I recently retired and moved to Florida. One of the first things I did once I arrived was to apply for a concealed weapons permit. Florida, along with a number of other states, allows citizens to carry weapons for self defense purposes. The permit is granted only after an extensive background check, finger printing, and with evidence of firearms training. Many of my friends ask why I needed one and the answer I give is simply because “I can”. The last state I lived in required a permit to use, transport, or even buy ammunition for a gun. It was a felony if you were caught carrying any weapon in your vehicle, even locked in the trunk, without “the card”. Needless to say the crime stats are worse in that state than Florida. I also have no reason to exercise my new found priviledge at the present time and until then my guns will stay locked up.

    I believe everyone has a choice to make regarding whether to associate with guns and whether to expose their children to them. Personally, I would prefer them to hear my message versus have them draw any conclusions based on what they may see on TV or in a movie.

  • I haven’t changed my mind, not have I come around, I’ve just shared a little more of my attitude with you, and you’ve discovered that we have more in common than you first assumed. Which is a good thing. In fact, my ideological attitude to violent action per se is a lot more complex than you probably suspect, and you may dislike it in a totally different way to the way in which you didn’t like my attitude to toy guns. But that’s a whole other article, and possibly not one that can be published in the current climate. Hope you have a good day.

  • I used sticks as guns when I was a kid. When I was older, I did have toy guns, and now, fully grown, I am not even a gun owner.

    I would also construct my hot wheels tracks or train tracks up and then create an elaborate destruction scene where everything fell apart. I had a skyscraper erector set and would build tall buildings then destroy them as in some natural disaster.

    And now as an adult, I don’t have an evil or mean bone in my body. I think it had to do with control, dominance, aggression and experimentation, common things for children to work through. Boys can probably get that release from other things, but playing with guns does not mean that a child will grow up to be violent.

    My daughter is 4 and a half and she recently learned about the concept of dying. Now every toy she has dies. We’ll never buy her a toy gun, but she uses her fingers as guns so it’s not like it’s stoppable anyway. She’ll outgrow it.

    Everybody I know (parents, friends, etc.) grew up playing with guns and none are violent today and 99% are not even gun owners as adults.

  • I meant grew up playing with TOY guns, of course, in my last paragraph.

  • God forbid he ever needs to defend himself. Good job. Now he can rely on that super-timely law enforcement everyone has and hope that no one blows his brains out. *applauds* Bravo.

  • I’m sure nobody is going to blow my little boy’s brains out, whether he has a gun or not… but thanks for the thought …. :S Have a good day.

  • sr

    Fanglet#29. Instead of being negative towards HH try to encourage rather then discourage. Are you a member of the NRA? Im now a life time member. Try to be understanding of her views. You never convert by hostile intentions. You just drive them further away. I mentioned to HH that I would like to teach her the way of the gun. What I do care about is the safty of her family. It’s like religion. If it’s shoved in your face you are turned off. Gun’s do save lives. In the US alone more then 2 millions lives are saved each year. I have a concealed weapon’s permit and I thank God that I never had to use it and pray I never will. So my friend please be helpful to HH. Her life may depend on what you say or teach.

  • sr

    HH. Pray you and your little boy are doing well. Have a great weekend. sr