Sunday, October 16, 2011

Boys and Guns.

I am not ashamed to be an over-protective mother.

I have been known to proudly state how I am just fine keeping my babies in a safe little bubble for several more years to come.

I mentally edit books I read out loud to vet out the negative, whiny, and mean characters and I always change words with negative connotations to words on my safe list.

Sometimes, I feel a little loony as I frantically race across the kitchen to turn off NPR as they describe a gun battle in Fallujah but I firmly believe words have power and sensitive little 3 year old ears have no need to hear a graphic description of war with bullets echoing in the background.

And, then there are the kids at the park.  Oh, the kids at the park.  

I'm not talking about my kids.  The kids I've known since infancy.  The kids whose mamas are my friends.  The kids whom I know and approve of.

I'm talking about the kids with guns.  Fake guns, yes.  But, a fake gun may as well be a real gun when you are 3 years old and have no concept of violence and death.  And, apparently, it only takes a few minutes of witnessing these fake guns in action for Henry to internalize the concept of shooting and "blowing away".

Long before my babies were born, I knew we would not be a "gun" house.  As a teacher, I chastised little boys who were forever turning every math manipulative and piece of playground mulch into a weapon.  Guns are not toys.  Duh.

At this point, I've come to accept that boys are naturally drawn to weapons.  Since this natural tendency to violence is completely foreign to me as a former little girl, I assume this hard wired trait is an evolutionary design hearkening back to the days of hunting for survival.

Or not.  Who knows.

But, at least the thought of evolutionary psychology makes me feel better when my precious, sweet, tender little 3 year old is running around the house armed with a plastic giraffe, shouting "shot shot shot".

Seriously.  My hearts breaks each time he "shot shot shot" at his sister.

I tell him, "Let's pretend that is a water hose and let's water your garden."  Sometimes that works for a bit but before long he is shooting again.

I say, "Let's pretend that this a giant mixing spoon and let's mix up a big bowl of cookie dough."  But, soon he is shooting.

I remind him that shooting is pretending to hurt and we don't want to hurt.

I attempt to ignore the shooting just like when we ignored his "oh, shit"s and "damn"s but the shooting pushes me over the edge and I can't seem to ignore it.  And, after an afternoon of shooting following a morning of a rough little boy playing too roughly with a sensitive little sister, I tend to lose it.  And, that's not good for anybody.

Advice?  Words of wisdom?  
Boy mamas, I need some guidance.


sarah said...

i have no advice, but i'm terrified of this. i was raised in a no gun house. i have always hated guns and didn't want them in my house. then i met my husband, fell in love, and then realized that he was a 'gun' guy. he's not a hunter, more of a collectable gun type guy. he has hand guns. his entire family is like this.

anyway, we have been having serious discussions about this lately. i don't really want the boys exposed to guns at all, but that is something that he shared with his dad and he wants to share it with his boys. he was taught MAJOR gun safety and has always had major respect for them.

for now, the guns are locked in a gun safe and we haven't decided when/if the boys will be exposed. so i have no advice, but i'm right there with you mama!

Amanda said...

I have one son who will be 3 in January. My husband likes to hunt, and we own guns - locked up in a gun cabinet in our basement. Jack doesn't have any toy guys in our house yet, but like you found, that doesn't stop him from using anything he finds as a gun. We have made sure that whatever he is using as a gun at the time never gets pointed at people. We stress the importance that guns hurt people (I'm not sure he knows what it means to kill, so we use hurt), and that we never, ever play with a real gun. We haven't had a lot of issues with this, since he doesn't play 'guns' often, but I have heard my DH say, "No shooting Mommy!" Since we're a hunting family, we tend to say things like "where's your target?" "Shoot at that animal or target." It is what works for our family.

reading your words has made me think about if we ever do have a toy gun, not to bring it out of the house to a public place. I'm not sure I ever would have let that happen, but at least I'm aware of that now. I hadn't thought of it before, since I haven't needed to.

visitor said...

Well, Eventually he will hear about what his granddaddy did to the squirrels in the graveyard next to the house...maybe since my boy is just a tiny baby this just isn't anything that bothers me. Boys and girls play different for sure - what about gi joes and army men ...when he gets older he'll be taught right, wrong, and "justified" gun use. But for now does he really know what he's playing?

visitor said...

And visitor is me ... Your sister :)

Amanda @ Gratefully Growing in Grace said...

As usual, Laura, I feel a kindred spirit with you.
My 3.5 year old has never seen a gun on the news, in real life, or heard anything about shooting on anything he watches on TV (which is limited to Sesame Street and Sid the Science kid, pretty much).
He still turns many, many a plaything into a "shotter".
Did he pick it up from 5 hours of preschool a week? A few days a year of playing with distant cousins? A park playdate with a friend?
I don't know, but his desire to play guns drives me crazy.
I, too, tried to encourage him to play that he's squirting water. Sometimes that works and he wants to get us all wet with his "shotter".
I've lamented this a lot and have been told by everyone who used to be a little boy or who has raised a boy that it's a natural tendency of boys to turn things into guns. I haven't seen any studies but the anecdotes say it's natural...

Rebecca said...

this is such a timely post! We took W to the fair this weekend, which is a while different story:) and he played one of those fishing games and he picked out a toy. What does he pick out, a GUN! WHAT?!?! I have never seen him play guns talk about guns anything guns.... huh?! Joe hunts and has a hunting gun but sure W has never seen anything related to guns...anyways, I am tempted to throw it away but I am kinda at a loss as to what to do with this new "toy"

Anonymous said...

My oldest son was 3 when he witnessed his dad attempt suicide with a gun. Although his dad lived through it with major disabilities (obviously), it left an major impact on my now 8 year old son. My husband (my son's step-father) also likes guns but respects my fear of them so we don't keep them in the house. We also don't allow any of our 3 kids to buy fake guns, bows, knives, etc. The best advice I can give you is, explain to him in 3 year old terms what guns actually do. What there purpose is for. I know you are vegetarians so maybe explain to him that guns kill the beautiful animals God created and that's not something to pretend to do. I don't know if this will help. Since gun safety was thrown in our lives in such a forceful way, I didn't get the chance to explain to my son the consequences of them. I realize this may have been too much information! I'm sorry!

Tara said...

Its funny, because we are a gun-owning household, I grew up in a gun-owning household, I have been around guns all my life, but as a mother I share the exact same concerns as you express in this post. Both my father and husband are hunters, and I know that their approach to gun safety is that guns are absolutely not a toy, but a tool that is used ONLY for hunting. I kind of gather from your blog that you guys are vegetarians, so this teaching tool might not fit with your family dynamic. One thing that my dad did, that I really appreciate now as an adult was to take us all out and have us shoot a gun when we were old enough (I wanna say I was 8 or 9). I will never forget the terror I felt at the awful power, noise and force of that gun. I didn't want anything to do with guns after that. I am also a woman though, and I think there is something hardwired in boys that makes them love the idea of guns. My dad addressed that by making my brothers hand made wooden rifles that they "hunted" all kinds of imaginary critters with. If they ever turned the gun on a sibling, or other person, he flat out threw the book at them. There was no question in my house growing up that guns were not toys, and now that my brothers are grown men, most of them own guns for hunting, and NONE of them treat them casually. I don't know exactly what the best thing to do for a boy of Henry's age is...but I am sure you guys will figure it out. Unfortunately, there are so many families out there who do NOT teach their children about firearm safety and that coupled with the casual attitude the media takes towards violence ends up being a deadly combination in many cases. Good luck. I am sure I will be in the same quandary if I ever have a little boy.

Laura @ our messy messy life. said...

Sarah and Amanda, your comments made me realize that in my attempts to banish gun play from our house, I have never acknowledged any concept of gun safety. I was raised with the rule of you never point a gun, real or fake, at somebody so it is obviously time we start talking about that.

Lizbeth, it is more than just pointing the stick and saying "shot shot shot". He gets an evil look on his face and it is very disconcerting to see a little toddler playacting like that. He definitely 'gets' the idea of the gun. Even if you are more lax than me on the guns, point them up when we visit :)

Amanda, I wonder if there are any studies on this topic. Surely so. But, no matter what, the anecdotes clearly say this is what little boys do :(

Rebecca, I'm pretty sure we would accidentally lose that new toy.....

Anon, I can't imagine a 3 year old going through that and that has affected him. We do eat some meat and maybe a new way to redirect the gun play could be to pretend to hunt and then we could pretend about all that. That is a good idea. Thank you for sharing.

Laura @ our messy messy life. said...

Tara, we were commenting at the same time :) My dad was on the rifle team and hunted small game when I was growing up so gun safety was always a part of my life as a child. Everyone's comments have definitely made me realize that Henry is not too young to teach concepts of gun safety, even his giraffe guns, so he can learn that guns are tools not toys. And, I totally agree with the cavalier attitude towards firearms AKA my worst fear.

Denis said...

instead of being paranoid and instill irrational fear of weapons, just train them to know how to be safe around guns, as you do with any other tool.

Laura @ our messy messy life. said...

Denis, I wouldn't call myself "paranoid" and I believe that a healthy respect for weapons is not an irrational fear but previous comments have defintely reminded me that gun safety is important and it isn't too early to start that discussion.

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

Thanks for this conversation, because I hadn't thought about teaching gun safety from this age, either. I grew up thinking guns were icky so not really knowing what the right way to treat them was. I can see how having a basic rule that guns are never pointed at people is a good one.

Allie said...

"He gets an evil look on his face and it is very disconcerting to see a little toddler playacting like that."

I wonder if this is the same as throwing stuff at people, kind of the "I'm angry at you, I know I can't hit or bite you, but this way I can show my anger without actually causing pain." Maybe deal with this the same way as when he was younger and you were teaching him not to hit? "You look like you're angry at your sister. It's not okay to shoot people. Can you use your words instead?" Or make up stories about little boys who are frustrated but don't know what to do and then the little boy in the story finds out that all he needed to do was .

I have a one year old boy, and I know this will come up eventually, so I appreciate reading everyone else's comments.

Beth-Anne Jones said...

We have blogged about this very issue over at It's an interesting topic and it seems that those of us with strong views about "never becoming a gun house" seem to end up with "guns" made from everything!

Great post!

Lucinda said...

I have an 8 year old son and a 10 year old daughter. My experience is that they are quite different, and some of that is because of gender. My daughter really doesn't care about guns or shooting. My son will turn anything into a shooter and has since he was 3 or so.

We allow nerf guns in the house. We have a whole assortment of them. There are basic rules like you don't pretend to shoot people. We discuss the differences between "toy" guns and real guns which are not toys and can hurt people very badly. My son has never had any trouble understanding the difference. This past year he shot a 22 with his grandpa (without my knowledge) and was deeply struck by the power of this gun. I know he was taught safety and respect for the weapon so even though I hadn't been asked ahead of time, I knew it was a good experience for my son.

Guns are a reality of life. Boys are attracted to them. I asked my son today what it was that he liked about his guns. He said he liked it because it was like tag and target practice and war where one side beats the other. He didn't think about killing anyone. He just liked how he could battle. And that is how boys play. Guns are a part of that whether you give them one or not. So I believe to a certain degree you need to accept and allow the inherent differences between boys and girls and let them express those differences. To fight it leads to frustration for everyone.

For the record, my boy is also the kindest, gentlest soul I know. Far kinder than his sister. But he does love to shoot his nerf gun. Good luck figuring out what works best for your family.

Kristi said...

We have been dealing with that issue at our house. Due to park play and a Grandpa who avidly watches the outdoors channel when we visit. We are teaching Landon those same things others are suggesting. Guns are not a toy, they are used for hunting, never to be pointed at anyone because they hurt people...

AnaDz said...

I struggle with the same thing. My four year old loves guns and good guy bad guy play. I've started letting go of my own concerns because as you said it almost seems like an innate trait in many boys. My son loves pirates and cannons and sharks, the more dangerous the better.

I picked up an old design book the other day with tons of fifties houses in it and there was  picture of a little boys room whose ENTIRE pegboard wall was decorated with toy guns. In many ways our kids are more sheltered now than in days past, if you really stop to think about it.

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