You’ve done everything you can to keep your kids from knowing about or playing with guns. It may be inevitable, but you remain ever hopeful that you can shield them from America’s morbid fascination with guns.
Then one day, as you sit around the table eating breakfast, they bite their toast into the shape of a “blaster” and begin making “pew, pew” sounds as breakfast point it at each other. Not knowing where it came from, you try to mask your surprise, knowing that if you come down too hard they will surely try harder to get a reaction. Play it cool, you tell yourself, it’s just a phase. It will pass.
Before you know it, their artillery has expanded to stick blasters, lego blasters, fork blasters, and finger blasters. At some point, someone tells them they correct term is gun, and fills them in on the differences between rifles and machine guns, bombs and bazookas.
Frustration grows, as you realize your parental influence is waning, and you rack your brain for alternative methods to nip this in the bud. Valuing honesty, and trusting in their ability to process the truth, you opt for a real- talk explanation of how guns are used and what they really do.
It’s tricky business, explaining to four year olds that people die from guns in real life, that it’s not a joke or a game, that while guns are not inherently bad, people use them to do bad things sometimes.
You take a deep breath and try to keep them focused, because this is the most important part. You tell them that if they ever find a gun, no matter where they are, they must never, ever touch it or pick it up. You give them clear instructions: Tell a grown up right away, and then call you. You ask them to repeat the instructions back to you, and then practice dialing your phone number.
They seem to have heard your message loud and clear, and you are again hopeful that the gun games are in the past now. They’re not. As is so often the case with parenting, repetition is key, and so you have the conversation again, including some stories that perhaps will scare them a little bit — stories of kids finding guns and accidentally shooting their siblings, themselves, their parents. There’s a twinge of guilt, but it isn’t nearly as strong as the fear that plagues your every thought, the anxiety you live and breathe at the news of every school shooting.
Again, they seem to get it, and again, they go right back to the gun games. Frustration mounting, you put your foot down. Enough is enough. They already know they’re not allowed to have toy guns, and now you forbid all gun play.
The more you push against it, the more they push back. When you visit friends whose children have nerf guns, they head straight for them, and don’t put them down for the duration of the visit. Christmas lists are delivered to you with 16 types of toy guns and nothing else. You’re running out of ideas, and patience.
In a desperate moment, you decide maybe they should be scared. Maybe a little bit of fear is better than this infatuation. Before you can think it through, you find yourself telling them about Sandy Hook, about how war actually works. Your hands trembling and their eyes wide, you watch the words hang in the air between you and immediately kick yourself for lacking tact. They are not distraught, they are not fearful, but it has connected.
The news continues to be full of stories of children who have found guns, used guns, brought guns to school. Periodically you ask them what they would do if they found a gun. They remember your instructions, and their answer is unwavering. They recite your phone number. You breathe a sigh of relief.
The gun play carries on. It doesn’t bother you any less, but you tell yourself it is just play. You have said what you needed to say, and you will likely need to say it again.
Now you must assure them that you love them no matter what games they play, that you may be wary of guns, but not of them. What they need is for you to teach them, and trust them, and let them play.