My mom was cleaning out the attic a while ago, and she came up with the homemade cowboy costume I wore when I was five or six. The hat was long gone, but there was a little vest and a set of fuzzy fake-cowhide chaps. It fits my older son, who's in first grade and who didn't have any other Halloween costume lined up.
But when I brought the outfit back with us, I forgot all about the other accessories. When I originally got the costume, back in the '70s, I also got a toy Winchester lever-action rifle. I already had one or two Old West-style cap pistols by then, the kind with the ivory plastic grips. A little cowboy needs his shootin' irons. Doesn't he?
My kids don't have any toy guns at all. It wasn't an ideological decision, or at least it wasn't an ideological decision I personally made. There are people who argue that gun play is unwholesome and promotes violence, but I haven't directly participated in one of those arguments. Instead, it's all secondhand: the toy stores where we live don't carry them; the other kids around here don't play with guns, either.
It was a piece of the landscape of childhood that I hadn't noticed was missing till we went to the beach in Delaware and suddenly there was a big rack of guns in the toy store there—cap guns, pop guns, soft dart guns, the works. My kids ignored them. They had no idea they might even be fun.
Toy guns were fun for me, though, the cap guns especially. My brother and I used to hang out on the porch shooting off roll caps, enjoying the noise and the sulfurous smoke and maybe the little flash if you really popped it right. It was normal and natural. We weren't developing any homicidal urges.
Our parents were opposed to owning or using actual guns, but this fact was completely unconnected to our toy-gun play. On afternoons at my great-uncle's house, I never felt the slightest urge to reach for his holstered service revolver when he left it with his badge on top of the dresser. Toys were toys. Real guns were real guns. There was no more confusion between them than there was between our Matchbox cars and our father's Volkswagen.
Not all kids get the difference, obviously, and tragically. The stories keep coming in about children who get their hands on a real gun and do something horrible. But my first-grader is, if anything, smarter and more cautious than I was at his age.
Mostly, though, toy-gun play is a big gap in my official parental opinion-having portfolio. Everything your children do and don't do is of course a reflection on your own worth as a human being, and it will define the trajectory of their lives. But sometimes you reach for a value judgment and one isn't there.
I don't want to waste any energy enforcing some taboo against cap guns, and I don't want to go to the trouble of making a point the other way. If I did get my kid a six-shooter, I wouldn't dare send him to school wearing it with his costume—even if, unlike much of zero-tolerance America, New York City won't automatically suspend a first-grader for possessing a toy gun. Probably just a reprimand and counseling, as long as the toy isn't too realistic. I checked the disciplinary manual to make sure.
So I guess I'm not arming him, because it's too much effort. And we don't have a porch for him to shoot caps on, in his downtime, if he even wanted to shoot caps, which I doubt he would. His little brother, who is two, would love to shoot caps, though. That settles it. No guns.
Obviously this is a cut-rate and irresponsible decision. Please offer your correct decisions in the comments.
[Image by Jim Cooke]