The Ever-Present Gun

Things my boys turned into guns while at the cottage in Nova Scotia:

  • K’nex
  • driftwood
  • water bottles
  • twigs
  • cardboard and duct tape
  • pasta
  • carrots


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“I deaded you!”

“Oooh, you died.  I deaded you!”  My three year old squeals.

“No, I am not died.  I am going to kill you!” My four year old responds.

This banter has been going on for a few minutes and I cringe  listening to such violent play.

“Boys!  Enough!  We don’t kill people.  We are kind to people.  We don’t use guns or play with guns!  They are dangerous and hurt people.”  I make a final plea.

I have got to hand it to my boys.  They are definitely creative.  There are no toy guns in our house.  There are no photos of guns.  None of their toy characters have guns.   No one we know owns a gun. My husband and I don’t own guns and I am fairly certain that neither of us has never shot a gun.

Yet my boys can craft a gun out of anything.  Toilet paper rolls.  Broom handles.  Pencils.  Their fingers.  The latter is difficult to take away from them.

I am not sure where this “kill ‘em” business came from but if I were to guess, school would be my bet and of course, pretty much most entertainment that is marketed towards boys has some sort of violent component to it.

It amazes me to see how much the boys have learned during the short school year.  Jack, who is four, is using words like liquid to describe melting ice and explaining to me the root system of our tomato plants.  Sam, who is three, clicks puzzles together faster than I can turn over the pieces and he counts aloud to twenty while staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to come without skipping a beat of flubbing the sequence.

But they learn other things at school, things about guns, war, weapons and death.  They are fascinated by the death of things – ants, flowers, batteries and yes, people too.  Together with their friends they play light-sabers, soldiers, police and bad guys and even, thanks to our recent trip to the movies, cars.

I respect and appreciate their curiosity and imagination.  But I also hate it.  It’s absolutely impossible to shield them from everything.

To me, it’s more important to expose them to things and then explain to them how their father and I feel about it.

This is what I tell myself to quiet my desire to lock them in their rooms with a few stuffed animals and a plethora of mommy-approved books.

My mother-in-law who has raised many boys insists to me that it’s futile.  As cliché and perhaps as offensive to some (click here and here) as it may seem: boys will be boys.

In an effort to understand this play, I turned to Leonard Sax’s book, Why Gender Matters, for some insight as to why my boys are so obsessed with rough play.  Here is what Dr. Sax has to say:

According to the section, Lessons From The Playground (pages 58-65):

  • Boys fight more often than girls to, including being physically aggressive towards each other.  He insists, and cite studies to back this up, that boys although they fight more frequently than girls often become better friends with their mates.
  • It’s normal for boys to show a preference for violent fairy tales and games.  It does NOT mean that they have a psychiatric disorder.  (Phew!)

The section in the book that most rang true for me is Grand Theft Auto.  Sax describes on page 71:

“. . . Don’t buy any video game that employs what I call a “moral inversion”- where good is bad and bad is good.  Playing those games for hours on end can warp your mind.  If your son absolutely has to play violent video games, choose something like SpyHunter instead.  In SpyHunter you’re a James Bond sort of character, assigned missions such as escorting diplomats to embassies while various enemies try to shoot you and the diplomat you’re escorting . . . You lose points if you kill or injure a civilian.  You can’t just fire your weapon blindly.  You have to avoid the civilians (who become more numerous as you advance in the game) and make sure you’re right on top of the bad guy before you can fire.”

If I am to be truthful, and it’s hard to be, I would admit that I am also embarrassed by their boisterous play.  My own ego and insecurities whisper to me other mothers are watching and judging, deeming my boys the “bad ones”.

But when I look around at other boys in the playground, I see the same play and hear the same words that fill-up my home coming from other little bodies.

“Boys, let’s just say “get ‘em”, okay?” I try again with my little warriors.

“Mommy, don’t worry. It’s not a gun, see?”  My son holds his tiny hand out to me and opens his palm.  He looks up at me with the sweetest eyes, and smiles his toothy grin and says, “It’s a sword.”

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Are All Guns Created Equal?

I am the crazy mother who went through all her mother-in-law’s toys (she had five boys, and her basement is boy heaven) and hid anything that even vaguely resembled a gun.  I wasn’t even at ease with water guns in the tub or back yard.  I would strip search the Playmobil figures and disarm them before any playing happened.  I had a collection of teeny, tiny guns that I kept stashed away.   There was no gun play allowed in our house.  That was eight years ago. 

Last month, when he asked for gift suggestions, I told my brother-in-law that he would be the hero uncle if he got Rowan a nerf gun.  I could not believe it as the words came out of my mouth.  It was a moment of reckless abandon.  It was also a moment of almost out-of-body disbelief. 

Griffin’s friend gave him a nerf gun for his 10th  birthday in May, you see, and it was causing no end of arguments at home.  I hated the jealousy over the gun more than the fact of having the guns themselves, so my no-gun policy (already severely compromised by Lego, Playmobil, Star Wars action figures, and, let’s face it, any handy stick or their own fingers) truly went out the window.

I hate gun play.  I hate to see children pointing guns at each other and pretending to shoot.  I don’t for a minute think that playing at guns will turn my boys into psychopaths, but I cannot help but see real violence and death when it is acted out in front of me, and it scares me.  It scares me that they want to play at killing each other, and no matter how many times I remind myself that it is just play and a safe outlet for aggression, I still hate it.  I also understand that these are my problems, not theirs.

I have learned that my outright ban on guns only made them more appealing.  And who was I kidding, anyway?  The boys have swords and shields, light sabers and wands, and they use those in the same role-playing of aggression.  We’ve had to ban the unforgivable curses, put the light sabers in time outs.  I still won’t allow a “real” toy gun into the house, though.  There’s something about that nerf buffer that makes it tolerable, somehow.

So now I let weapon role-playing happen.

Until I don’t.  Gun play, light sabers and wand play are kept on a very, very short leash in this house, and as soon as it gets out of hand, away they all go into a cupboard.  By out of hand I mean: too loud, too mean, too hyper or someone gets hurt.  The boys know that if one of them gets hurt, they all lose their weapons, and when things have cooled down we talk about what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. 

We are now in the middle-of-the-road camp, with weapon play allowed (if not endorsed) and lots and lots of discussion with the kids around the purpose and limits of that play.

I’d like to say that there has been more harmony on the home front now that both big boys are armed with nerf guns, but of course, there is still Gavin…