I Shoot em up, I Shoot em down, I Shoot the Lost, I Shoot the Foooound

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Santa Claus: How about a nice football?
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] Football? Football? What’s a football? With unconscious will my voice squeaked out ‘football’.
Santa Claus: Okay, get him out of here.
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] A football? Oh no, what was I doing? Wake up, Stupid! Wake up!
Ralphie: [Ralphie is shoved down the slide, but he stops himself and climbs back up] No! No! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!
Santa Claus: You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.(A Christmas Story)

…sigh.

My adopted parents divorced when I was about 5 years old and for years afterwards, my brother and I spent the occasional weekend with my adopted mom at her place. Usually it was a dinky house on Dauphin Island, but every once in a while it was wherever her boyfriend (now husband) was working a contract job—New York, California—wherever.

One of the ways she would ensure that we wanted to come was by taking us to the toy store and telling us we could get one thing we wanted (within a spending limit of course). Being a young boy, there were tons of things I wanted, but one particular year, I wanted a BB gun. Thinking back, I can’t remember if I’d asked for one at home or not, so I don’t know if my dad had already put the kebosh on the idea, but by golly, she said I could have whatever I wanted, and that’s what I wanted.

As it turns out, my dad was none too happy, but not for the reason you might think. It wasn’t that he was against guns. No, in fact, he’d shown me how to shoot a .22 rifle and single barrel 12-gauge shotgun by the time I was ten. The reason he was so mad at my “mom” was because he felt that giving a young boy his first gun was a dad’s job and he was mad at her for usurping what he felt was a rite of passage. Even at such a young age, that made sense to me, but you know what? I didn’t care. I had my BB gun and frankly, I didn’t care who gave it to me. With two boys of my own, I understand his disappointment now and I feel bad that he was deprived of that responsibility.

With my BB gun I did the usual things a boy does with a gun, some cruel, but mostly I just shot at stuff. The aim on those guns is so poor anyway that most animals had a pretty fair chance at avoiding a “sting” from one of my little copper spheres of death. But the point is, that as an adult, I don’t own a gun now (but not because I fear them). I’m not scarred for life by having held a weapon as a child, nor do I suffer from nightmares stemming from hours upon hours of playing shoot-em-up in the dirt field across the way from our house. Upon that field, I’ve died a thousand childhood deaths as an indian, a cowboy, a good/bad guy from Star Wars, you name it.

So it is with great inner turmoil that I address this idea of playing guns with my 3-year old. There’s a little boy in my son’s daycare class whose dad is a soldier. As with most parents, their lives reflect their livelihood and so it is with this young boy. Right or wrong, this child has learned all kinds of war-like behavior and consequently all the other sponges in his class have picked it up too. And it’s not just a matter of going around “shooting” anything that moves and making those “pcuuuushh” noise that simulates gun firing; no, the boy apparently has a firm grasp on what it means to “kill” something. It is this, more than anything that strikes fear into my wife (moreso than me).

Just as I don’t understand how playing with dolls is a normal part of growing up for girls, my wife doesn’t understand about guns. For her, playing cops and robbers, or shooting the dogs with his pretend gun-hand is akin to sneaking into their room at night and slitting their throats. For her, there is no line between playing and reality and so she has put her foot down about playing guns.

You can see my dilemma right? I get it…this world today isn’t the same world it was 25 years ago when we were kids. Even taking a toy gun to school these days will land a kid in juvey and heaven forbid he says—even jokingly—to another boy, “I’m going to kill you.”

Just as I don’t think my son would understand a frank talk about guns and their dangers to society, I also don’t think that what he’s doing now is going to have any long-lasting effect. And where do you draw the line? Do you just tell your child that playing guns or knives is bad, or do you say, “No Timmy, you can’t play wrestling, boxing, good-guy/bad-guy…nothing.”

Violence is part of a boy’s growing up. It’s how pecking orders are established and by golly, my son will grow up knowing how to take care of himself, whether that be teaching him a few karate moves or showing him how to shoot a gun when he’s older in case the world is hit by a meteorite and we revert back to the iron-age and he must protect his family.

But for now, I’ll hold my tongue, or at least try and moderate his behavior. But deep down, I really don’t see the problem. He’s three…let him play.

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