I have a 3 year old son, who is funny, energetic, crazy, sensitive, sweet, playful and fills my heart with more joy than I could have imagined. He’s the middle kid of three, right smack-dab between two sisters. He swings wildly between wanting to be a pirate to a unicorn to a tiger. His favorite color is blue, he loves running, jumping, throwing balls, painting his nails blue, dancing, singing, and what he calls “shoot guns.” Herein lies the problem.
Let me begin by noting: I am one liberal mama and I cannot. stand. guns. I am going to be that mom who asks playdate moms if they keep a gun in the house, and if they do, it better be unloaded, locked, and I want to physically see where it is stored and how. If not, my kid won’t be playing there.
When we found out we were having a little boy, I knew that helping my little guy grow into a kind, sensitive, thoughtful man was my top priority. When I was pregnant with him, I made a mental list of things I would never let him do and a list of things I would encourage him to try. At the top of my list was “I will never let him pretend to shoot a gun. Ever.”
Then he turned two-and-a-half and literally everything became a sword, a bow and arrow or a “shoot gun” as he calls them. Anything can be a shoot gun… hands, water-guns, pieces of paper, train set tracks and most often, sticks. My heart sank.
Scary statistics went screaming through my mind:
– Gun violence is the second leading cause of death for American children.¹
– Over 2,700 children and teens (ages 0-19) are shot and killed every year.²
– More than 14,000 are shot and injured every year.²
Nope, I was putting a stop to this. No son of mine would be pretending to shoot anything. I explained to Henry, ad nauseam, about the danger of guns, the implications of even pretending to shoot one. I read him books about being adventurous with other, less realistic and less dangerous weapons. Pirates with swords, wizards with wands, writers with pens! He enjoyed the stories, listened to what I had to say, but his little toddler body just could not stop turning everything into “shoot guns.”
We were at my in-laws house and he found an old toy gun that looked like a hunting rifle. I lost my mind. I made them get rid of it. I could tell I seemed bonkers, but there’s a big difference between a child playing pretend with a stick and a child, a toddler, becoming familiar with a realistic looking gun and thinking it’s a toy. Nope. Nope. Nope.
The pretend rifle at Grammie and Pops was removed, but I couldn’t remove every train track, toy train, piece of paper, stick or his little hands. It’s extremely difficult to teach your toddler not to dabble in the abstract pretend play that is turning a stick into a gun. This kid has an imagination and a desire for adventure that rivals my ability to control what he does every. waking. moment.
But, I was so fed up with the gun play. I’d had enough. He was in our front yard, had picked up a stick, and was pointing it at the tree making a funny noise and telling me he was “shooting a dragon.” I knelt down to him and explained that guns hurt people, they aren’t toys and he can never touch one. I was almost in tears, which may sound dramatic, but school shootings are so common now that they don’t even hold headline news and I’m devastated over our country’s lack of interest in gun control. And I’ll be damned if my son is going to think guns are toys.
After I explained, once again, about how guns hurt people and I know he doesn’t want to hurt anyone so could he please put the “shoot gun” down, he put his chubby little hand on my shoulder and said, “Mommy, my shoot gun doesn’t hurt people, it has water come out to spray the dragon, not hurting.” Then he leaned in and whispered, “Also it’s not really a shoot gun, it’s a stick.”
Well, damn. He has been listening. His “shoot gun” shoots water. It is a stick and he is 3.
I will certainly continue to educate him on the importance of safe-play, the danger of actual guns, the importance of never, ever touching anything that even looks like a gun. But, if he wants to pick up a stick and point it at an imaginary dragon and tell me he “got the dragon,” I’m going to let him.
Statistics are from Everytown for Gun Safety Research and following references:
1. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WISQARS Fatal Injury Reports, Leading Causes of Death, United States. Data from 2016. See also: Heron M. Deaths: Leading causes for 2015. National Vital Statistics Reports, Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2017; 66(5).)
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WISQARS Injury Reports. Data used a 5 year average, 2012-2016.