Author Conflicted by “The Terrifying Awesomeness of Nerf Guns”

Anyone with kids knows they love Nerf guns. Even liberal feature writers are forced to recognize that, not only are they cool and fun to play with, but that no matter what you may think about gun play, kids love ‘em. In Farhad Manjoo’s recent Slate piece, he alternates between marveling at how fun and inventive the guns are and fretting about what it may mean that his kids will actually, you know, have a blast playing with them…

Over the past few weeks I’ve been playing with some of the new Nerf guns, and I’ve tied myself in knots thinking about whether ultrarealistic weapons are just harmless fun or whether they reveal something terribly wrong with modern American boyhood. I’ll admit it: As a father of a 1-year-old son, Nerf’s weaponry worries me. And it worries me mainly because these guns seem irresistible. Before I played with them, I’d suspected I’d be the sort of blue-state parent who’d try to subtly, high-mindedly discourage my kid from playing with guns. After getting my hands on today’s Nerf, I see that’ll never work. If they’re so appealing to me, what hope would a 7-year-old have against these insanely awesome toys?

None at all, Farhad. None at all. Oh, the confounding dilemmas faced by the modern progressive parent.

Ultimately Manjoo boils the whole Nerf blaster (even Nerf doesn’t use the word ‘gun’ to describe their toys) predicament down to two questions; are they safe and are they “good” for your spawn. He determined their safety by gamely acting as a human target  – sans body armor – while his wife shot him with a variety of Nerf weaponry. He seemed to come through the ordeal relatively unscathed, pronouncing them safe.

As for the whole developmental question, though, where would a modern, concerned parent turn for toy gun advice? Why, to a liberal academic of course. Majoo consults Diane Levin, education professor and author of The War Play Dilemma. Perhaps resigning herself to the inevitability of kids playing with toy guns, she (shockingly) doesn’t suggest banning them, instead recommending that parents set limits and “(teach) your kids lessons while they’re playing.” That should make for a fun time, no?

Finally, though, Manjoo knows when he’s beaten. Though clearly unsure of the propriety of this whole toy gun thing, he ultimately throws up his hands in the face of all that irresistible plastic firepower:

Look at the bright side: If your kids play with Nerf, at least they’re running around outside.