There is a lot of talk and debate these-days about gun control. Some argue we need to remove military assault weapons from the hands of ordinary citizens, some argue for more stringent background checks, and others argue we should do nothing and that gun ownership is a right given to us by our own Constitution. No matter your stance, what creates gun violence? Where does it start? Is it a mental illness brought on by chemicals in ones own brain? Is it something deep rooted from childhood? We could speculate all day.
I have an almost five year old son and my son has been obsessed with all things police, military and Star Wars for a couple of years now. He loves to dress up and "play" cops, and with that comes handcuffs and guns. In almost all toy stores, dress up kits for boys contain things like handcuffs, body armor and yes, pretend guns. Even his favorite Star Wars characters have laser guns. I'm constantly "being shot" or pretending to be the bad guy getting arrested. My son, like other boys his age I know, have been pretending like this for decades. I remember my now 30 year old brother doing the same thing as a little boy. One thing we have had to instill in in him is that it's okay to play at home, but in these times, it is not okay to play like this in school. We worry about the perception of his teachers and others and often wonder how accepting they would be if our son, or any other child, brought his imagination to school and it turned into pretend gun play. With policies being set from school districts, an innocent and forgetful child could easily use their hand or fingers to pretend to shoot a friend at recess, all in good fun, but unlike playground play of yesteryear, it comes with consequences.
A part of me wishes to take these toys away or try and redirect his play to something else when he chooses to play cops, but the other part of me, as a parent, and teacher, knows that it's not a 24/7 obsession and that there are plenty of other toys and exciting things my son can choose to do, when he is in the mood. I don't want to interfere with his own thoughts and imagination or make him feel that playing certain things is bad or not right. What message does that send to him or any other child?
As I write this, I wonder what brings on these interests and where do we cross the line? For us, we know that having a Poppie who is a police officer was a big influence. Also, I have watched many cartoons with my son, and we still have some of the same cartoons we had years ago. GI Joe, Star Wars, and other cartoons that show or depict action heroes with weapons, and yes, guns. Some say that spending years watching cartoons or shows that depict violence sends a message that using force or a weapon is the way to combat (pardon the pun) a situation one might be angry about. Is watching these shows turning children into future offenders? No, at least I don't think so! What is the line of appropriate play for boys who will be boys?
In reality, people who grow up to be violent offenders usually have background history and indications of a life that may have contributed to mental distress or even mental illness. There are signs that are ignored. None of us are fortune tellers or able to predict the future, because if we were able to do that, the world would be a very different place. In the angry debate over gun control, and as a parent of a young boy who is growing up in these times, I have to ask myself and you, can we still let little boys be boys? Or do we have to keep them shut in when they act out their pretend missions and gun battles?
It's my hope that innocence can reign superior for little boys imaginations and that the violence that has ensued in this country can be squelched with not just new policies for gun control, but also will new awareness and watchful protection over those we feel have the capabilities of doing harm. I want my son (and future son due in just 10 weeks or so) to be able to play cops and robbers, cowboy, GI Joe or action hero and not feel like their pretend play is something that is taboo.