Why I gave my son a toy gun

Haley shares what happened when she let her son play with a toy gun for the first time.

Photo: Danish Khan/iStockphoto

Several years ago, I got a little lazy and paid a company to make the loot bags for my daughter’s birthday party. I said, “Make it simple, generic, something boys and girls will both like.” It was summertime, and it didn’t occur to me that they’d put very realistic-looking toy water guns in the loot bags!

As a fairly new mom at the time, I was MORTIFIED. A lot of parents at this party had strong views on parenting. I knew I had to warn them and tell them I would NEVER…. And I was bang-on when I guessed which parents would ask me to pull the water gun out of their kids’ bags (poor kids were left with almost nothing — a notebook with a puppy on it and a pencil).

Needless to say, it fascinated me that some parents were like “Whatever” about the guns, and others were like “OMG, the HORROR!”

Anyway, I ended up giving my own kids their water guns. My son, who was then just a baby, was too young to appreciate his, of course. And my daughter could have cared less.

But now….

My son’s almost five years old. His friends have toy guns. He even came home one day and drew me a picture of the “shooters” in his friend Michael’s toy gun — I wanted him to show me how big they were. From his drawing it looked like they were the size of a bead! His mother assured me they were Nerf “shooters,” soft and not miniscule.

But the other day, my son got a toy gun of his own. I had gone to a Hasbro toy event to check out the latest holiday toys, and they sent me home with a gift bag, which included, among other little goodies, a realistic-looking Nerf toy gun, complete with dart-like bullets. Just to give you an idea, even my typically-laid-back husband was freaked out.

“Mama, LOOK!” my son said, as he dug into the bag. Ack! He found it! And since he saw the gun before I had the chance to hide it, I found myself letting him have it. Part of me couldn’t resist his begging (I like to pick my battles), and part of me was curious about the kinds of conversations we could have about this, what I might say to teach him about the seriousness of guns if it came up, the problems with toy guns, how to use them safely, and so forth.

He played with the gun on and off throughout the evening. And, thankfully, he’s forgotten about it since. But during that time, he was very careful to obey the rules: He’s never to point the gun at a person or animal; he’s always to have a soft target, like his Cars chair or a pillow; and the gun is never to leave the house because, I told him, “Not all children are allowed to play with toy guns.”

My real reservation about guns stems from my own childhood. When I was around nine years old, a friend of mine was playing with a toy gun at summer camp and ended up losing an eye — a tiny stick had gotten caught in the gun’s barrel. It was a huge challenge for me to let my son play with the Hasbro gun, but it was also a good practice in easing up on my own fears and reservations, trusting my son to play safely (albeit supervised), and seeing how he would handle something he knew to take seriously, even though he was playing.

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