We have an arsenal in our home, 16 weapons of varying sizes and calibers. Among them are the N-Strike Rampage, Truvelo Raptor, Vortex Pyragon, Automatic Tommy 20, Raider CS-35, a laser-sighted pistol, a bolt-action rife, a crossbow, and a six shooter. There is also a machete, an aluminum foil knife, and a grenade launcher fashioned from paper towel tubes.
My two boys, particularly my 8-year-old son Jackson, have taken full advantage of the easy availability of toy guns. Nerf, Airsoft, Buzzy Bee: we have something from all the big gun manufacturers. My sons also have the right to bear arms freely, a liberty Jackson exercises as he protects the perimeter of our yard with a three-foot-long Star Wars blaster that goes beew beew beew! when you pull the trigger.
The recent string of shootings, from the first graders in Newtown, CT, to the movie-goers in Aurora, CO, to the high schoolers in Bakersfield, CA, are affecting the way I view these playthings, even though they’re neon orange, fire bullets softer than marshmallows, and have bumblebee stickers on the barrel. I’m not alone: many parents are scrambling to take some—any—kind of action. One burgeoning trend has been banning toy guns at home. This, the parents say proudly to themselves, is pulling the problem up by the root.
What a waste of time. What will that accomplish? Let's find out.
Last Saturday, I enacted a new Draconian gun control law at home: I confiscated every toy gun and weapon in our home.
Saturday, 10:15 a.m.: “Why?!” Jackson asks. Because I want to spend a weekend together without playing with guns. He is angry, flabbergasted. His face says it all: From my cold, dead, Cheeto-dusted hands.
I matter-of-factly ask him to help me round up the weapons. We go to the gun cabinet—a laundry basket—and pile them up in our arms. I organize the arsenal on the floor. Hmm. This is more than I remember buying. (Wait… is that a gasmask?) Looking at his cache, Jackson’s anger gradually gives way to acceptance, and then to pride. “Can you take a picture of it, Dad?” He wants to hang it in his bedroom.
The line between pretend violence and real violence is getting increasingly slim. Death in video games used to mean being eaten by blinking ghosts or falling into a lava pit after missing the floating coins.
Today, it’s massively multi-player first-person war games. Check out the most popular toy guns websites, like this one or this one. At first glance, it’s hard to tell if they are selling toys or the real deal. Nerf rifles used to have a cartoonish appeal, but as the designs got sleeker and the accoutrements more sophisticated (bipods, high capacity magazines), the line between fantasy and reality has shrunk.
Even the names of the toy guns are becoming more hardcore. In the 1980s, Nerf produced one of its first toy guns: the Blast-A-Ball. Today, the monikers are not so cuddly. In fact, in this story’s first paragraph, one of the guns mentioned is actually a South African-made assault rifle (Truvelo Raptor). Could you tell the difference?
Saturday, 5 p.m.: Jackson sits at the kitchen counter, dutifully sketching with one of his Ticonderoga #2s. I ask what he’s drawing. “Bounty hunters,” he replies.
Last Friday, Vice President Biden met with video game companies to discuss violence in video games. (“That is like meeting with Hot Wheels about car safety,” read one Tweet.) Wednesday, President Obama announced 23 executive orders related to gun control, and asked Congress to move forward with its own gun laws and research on the effect violent video games have on our youth. The Entertainment Software Association, which represents video game publishers, released a statement following Obama’s announcement. “The same entertainment is enjoyed across all cultures and nations, but tragic levels of gun violence remain unique to our country," said the ESA.
And that’s what it comes down to. This is a uniquely American dilemma.
Consider for a moment America’s favorite things. Sports cars. Fast food. Contact sports. Guns. Americans love these things, but they can be dangerous when abused or treated too casually. Misuse or excess leads to obesity, injury, health problems, and death. We need to teach respect and caution. Children will get that message only if parents fight for that message. McDonalds has boosted the nutritional value of their Happy Meals. The NFL is working to curb head injuries in youth football. What will the gun lobby do?
Sunday, 8:30 p.m.: Jackson and I sit at the kitchen counter; CNN is on in the neighboring living room. “Hey bud, you can have your guns back tomorrow,” I say. He sports an overexaggerated grin. So much has happened since the gun ban was enacted: drawing, skateboarding, scootering, a trip to the playground. “I bet you forgot about your guns, didn’t you?” I ask. He doesn’t miss a beat. “No. It was pretty hard to stay away. Because, man, I just love that tommy gun.”
I walk into the living room, where a gun debate is in full swing. A gentleman in a necktie shares his passionate views on preserving our right to bear arms. I look from my son to the gun advocate, and from the gun advocate to my son, and it was hard to say which was which.