When my wife and I had our first child back in 1995 we agreed that our kids wouldn’t have guns. Toy guns or real guns. In fact, we agreed that our house would be gun-free. It wasn’t that big of a deal to me, even though I grew up in a house with cap guns, BB and pellet guns, and larger guns locked away somewhere. Both of my grandpas had guns and so did my uncle. I passed the Hunter Safety course in 6th grade and knew how to handle a gun and how to shoot it. Interestingly enough, with all that exposure to guns during my childhood, I managed to never shoot anyone with anything worse than a squirt gun. Reality is that guns really didn’t play a huge role in my life. I didn’t grow up hunting although my dad did allow me to shoot those pesky starlings in our backyard, even though we lived in the city. I became a pretty good shot with my pump-action BB/pellet gun. But that was the extent of my “hunting” experiences until I shot my first (and only) deer in 2005. The following few hunting seasons provided good exercise but no deer.
So, fast forward to now, May of 2014. My son is 9. Up to this point he’s had an assortment of water guns, Nerf guns, marshmallow guns and other toys like that. But not a real-looking toy gun like my cap pistol from childhood. As fate would have it, two boys are moving in the house across the street from us and my son has become good friends with them. These boys have cap guns and my son requested that we get him one so he could play along with them. After a brief conversation, my wife and I agreed and I bought them for him at the store yesterday. First of all, I didn’t even know that they still made cap guns, so it was a total flashback to my childhood to find them again. And that smell…same as it was 30+ years ago. Ha. My older girls, especially my oldest, was somewhat stunned that we’d “caved” and allowed guns in our house after so many years of not allowing it. (Although, it’s not like my older three girls asked for them at all.) What was especially interesting for me was how important this was for my son to be allowed to have a toy gun. I guess he didn’t expect that we’d agree to it.
Last night, as he was getting ready for sleep, we were talking about guns since I told him that I would show him how to load and use the cap gun after school the next day (today). I used it as an opportunity to begin to teach him about gun safety and that even though it was a toy, it looked real. So, he needed to only play with it at home and never take it to the store or out in public because someone might see it and call the police and he could get shot if the police thought it was real. I hope I scared him straight with that. I followed that up with a conversation about the importance of NEVER touching or looking at a gun that a friend might try to show him if he’s a friend’s house. Instead, I told him to run away screaming for help to get the attention of an adult so that no one would get hurt. We’ve all read far too many headlines about kids that get shot when they’re just “looking” at their parents’ gun.
When my wife and I were first married, before we had kids and while still in college, we earned extra income by staying with some kids while their parents went on vacation to places like Cancun or the Bahamas. It was good money and we got to stay in some really nice houses. One family that we stayed with had three boys. The middle boy, Lucas, was the “curious” one, always pushing the limits, checking to see where his boundaries were with us. So, it came as no surprise when Bryant, the older brother, told me that Lucas was climbing in the closet that was supposed to be off limits. When I checked it out, sure enough, Lucas had crawled up to the top shelf and was digging through the boxes up there. Why? He was looking for a key. Not just any key, the key to his dad’s gun safe. And he found that key pretty quickly. Thankfully, I was there to confiscate the key and keep it out of Lucas’s hands, but that really made an impression on me about keeping kids safe from guns. The dad has assured us before their trip that the guns were safely locked away and that the kids had no idea about how to get inside it. Which was why he thought it was fine to keep several boxes of ammo on that top shelf near the key. UGH!
Now, I don’t begrudge anyone their Second Amendment right to bear arms, but with that right comes a lot responsibility. Chief among that is that safety is the top priority. It was pretty clear that the dad was out of touch when it came to his son’s curiosity about guns and his son’s ability to access the weapons. My buddy who took me deer hunting back in 2005 has two daughters in high school now. He has always had guns in his house. Locked safely away from his kids. But what he did differently with his girls was to teach them how to handle and use guns, starting when they were very little. When I asked him why he did that, his response was so that they would learn to respect the power of the gun while not being afraid of it. So that they could safely handle and dismantle any gun that they might encounter in their lives. In essence, he was empowering them with knowledge that could save their lives.
I’m not delusional enough to think that getting a toy cap gun is going to change my children into psychopathic monsters as adults. However, I’m kind of glad that they have them to play with. Not because I love the smell of the burnt cap shot (I do, but that’s not the point) or the time they spend chasing each other around with that loud “bang-bang” filling the air as they pretend to shoot each other. It’s because I can use it as a chance to teach my kids some important life lessons that should serve them well as they grow.