“The vast majority of boys who play with toy guns will never go on to use real ones to harm someone,” Elissa Strauss pronounces at cnn.com. Really? Who knew? But a Mommy blogger writing for an anti-gun rights news org, living in a country where Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a thing, must be very careful about approving any kind of gun. So . . .
Before last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the upswell of gun control activism that followed, concerns about the potential link between toy gun play and gun violence were much easier to set aside. But now, as the culture engages in a deep reckoning with this problem, that muted response feels wrong, if not complicit.
Letting your male children play with guns makes you complicit in the homicidal rage that claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? Of course not. It makes you feel complicit. And when it comes to guns, it’s all about feelings, right? Because facts suck, especially when they don’t fit your agenda. Which they virtually never do.
A growing number of parents looking to act on their fear of gun violence are wondering whether, in addition to boycotting gun-friendly businesses and protesting NRA-endowed politicians, they should also do something about the ubiquity of guns in their sons’ fantasy lives.
See? Where’s the factual evidence for this “growing number” of parents contemplating some homespun gun confiscation? I reckon Ms. Strauss simply “feels” that it’s true. Which makes it true! For her and . . .
Like many parents, Karina Moltz, a mother of two boys, ages 5 and 7, in Newburyport, Massachusetts, had hoped she could skirt the toy gun issue altogether. She had avoided exposing her sons to guns, and when the subject came up, she explained to them, simply, that she didn’t like guns because they killed people.
Her sons love toy guns. They look for ways to acquire them and seek out shooting games at arcades. And Moltz, who is active with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, doesn’t want to forbid them. Her own mother had a strict no-gun policy when she was child, leaving her well-acquainted with the way parental bans can actually amplify children’s desire for whatever it is they are being denied. So she allows some gun play, both in-person and onscreen, but accompanies it with probing conversations.
Wait. Did I just read that Ms. Moltz’s mom’s strict no guns policy amplified her desire for a gun? That would explain her desire to ban guns.
As for the MDA Mom’s “probing conversations” about guns with her children I wonder if the sprogs in question would describe it that way. Mind you they’re too young to master the word “harangue.”
Brooke Berman, mother of a 7-year-old boy in New York, also struggles with her son’s attraction to guns and has discussed the issue at length with her friends and in therapy. “There was a time when I wouldn’t let him have one, and he would make one out of anything, but now we realize there is a time and place for it,” she said.
“He knows about Parkland. He knows guns kill people. He insists that (his) is not a real gun and he isn’t a real murderer,” she said. “He is very clear that this is playing.”
According to Michael Thompson, a psychologist and co-author of “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys,” when a child says they understand the distinction between fantasy gun play and real-life gun use, believe them.
“I understand why parents get upset by these games, but it is play, and play does not lead to lethal aggression. Play … is consensual. Aggression is hurtful and produces injury in the person. Play doesn’t produce any of that,” he said.
Is a Mom in therapy the best person to ask about the issue of toy guns for boys? Well at least her seven-year-old son has a firm grip on reality. As does Mr. Thompson.
As for Ms. Strauss, her ultimate “argument” for toy guns for boys is . . . wait for it . . . boys will be boys.
[University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point psychology professor Erica] Weisgram says it’s probably a mix of biological and cultural factors that draw boys to guns. There’s evidence that male hormones are associated with what we think of masculine play, though no study has linked boys directly to toy weapons. There is also evidence that parents are more likely to give boys what we think of as masculine toys, including toy guns, and that children, once aware of gender difference, are more likely to choose toys that are designated for their gender.
If the past is an indication, there will always be some kids — boys and perhaps, one day, more Wonder Woman-inspired girls — who enjoy playing with toy guns. If and when they do, parents might consider responding by first asking them why.
I feel like that’s something of a mistake. Wonder Woman doesn’t use a gun. Wait. It is a mistake. As the Talking Heads pointed out, sometimes facts don’t do what you want them to, no matter how hard you try.