As with many parenting issues, the issue of how to deal with my son’s desire for a six-shooter toy gun had to be formulated as the issue arose. Not that I hadn’t read that the likelihood that this day was coming was high. We had specifically avoided exposure to shooting play or toys, but the truth every parent faces is that you can’t control what they see in the world and from other kids.
Like many boys, he enjoys pretending he is a cowboy, firefighter or superhero for much of his playtime. His ongoing favorite is everything cowboy; he loves horses, takes fiddle lessons, and now he is packing a plastic six-shooter.
In case you are unaware of why that is a problem, allow me to summarize. In the years following the Columbine school shooting tragedy, the response by the public school system became a zero-tolerance policy for guns. But it is not just guns that were included in zero-tolerance, also toy guns and even hand gestures. In our own state, as recently as March 2010, a kindergartener was expelled for using his hand to make a gun. The news story notes that no one had even discussed the rule with him at the school.
Zero tolerance means that the same punishment is recommended for a kindergartener gesturing as a high school senior who brings a loaded semi-automatic. It’s the too lazy for not only good judgment, but any judgment policy – by definition.
I don’t want to communicate anything other than my complete support of a zero-tolerance gun policy. I even support a rule that playing guns at school is not allowed, with consequences appropriate to that particular violation. The complete lack of recognition that boys are naturally drawn to shooting play in formulating reasonable consequences is what generated my pushback on the status quo. With my firstborn entering kindergarten this last year, the mamma bear instinct to protect him from overzealous pacifists wanting to make an example became heightened, especially with this new interest in guns.
The interest in guns can be traced back to three things in our case, the natural interest of boys in things that go bang, a slightly older cousin who introduced him to gun play (the cousin looks up to his courageous father who is on a second deployment overseas), and his strong interest in everything cowboy. It wasn’t a semi-automatic my son requested, it was a six-shooter like the real cowboys. In his cowboy book, they used them to shoot rattlers and coyotes that threatened the herd or themselves, and to turn back a stampede. So what do we shoot at our house? Rattlers and coyotes, never people.
But if I may stir the pot further, that is really an age-appropriate distinction. I don’t advocate raising a generation of boys to think guns are bad. As long as there are bad guys – Al Quaida, dictators, those who will enslave and abuse entire people groups, drug dealers, rioters – we will need courageous men and women to use weapons to protect the innocent and fight the bad guys. That is a reality all too simple to understand. The current policy is in complete denial of it. We need to consider how the current zero-tolerance for hand gestures in kindergarten approach is affecting the next generation of men and women who will need to rise to the dangerous challenges of their day.
Why is there an approach to risky behavior regarding sex and drugs that says, we can’t prevent, so we should educate, but when it comes to guns, the policy is knee-jerk retribution without education? Do we want video games and movies to be the
only source of gun education?
At our house we have begun the discussion of how guns are very serious because they can hurt and kill people, that good guys use them to protect us from the bad guys who have them, and when we play, we only use them for cowboy purposes; getting those rattlers and coyotes, and turning back a stampede.
It is no desire of mine that my son should ever put himself in harm’s way to fight the bad guys, but it is my every desire that he will be the kind of man that would. It is my obligation as a parent to raise him in a way that does not squash his desire to protect and save. I just hope he will be surrounded by a generation of men who's parents have done the same.