How do you feel about guns?
I come from a family of hunters: pheasant and geese mostly. Scott’s brothers and nephews hunt dove and deer. One of Marc’s best friends goes out with his dad deer hunting.
So, I can’t say that I’m against guns. Admittedly I’ve never shot one. . .and to be honest, I really don’t want to, but I understand that people like to hunt and target shoot, and some people might feel a sense of protection from owning one.
Scott, though, would much rather shoot a 70 on an eighteen hole golf course than spend a day hunting. Our family arsenal is comprised of an impressive collection of Nerf guns, and the Nerf gun wars around here are about as strategic and serious as it comes–even with makeshift “uniforms”.
Scott always lends an air of whimsy to the fight.
But this year a new type of gun has a appeared in our house and I’m in a battle with it and its kind: the Airsoft Gun.
An airsoft automatic weapon first appeared on the scene after the neighborhood garage sale last spring. To the nine year old, five dollars of saved allowance money was a small price to pay. I think he would have promised the next three months of allowance coinage to purchase it!
Plastic bb’s were its ammunition preference and a makeshift shooting range was set-up in the backyard. Knowing the attention challenges of a nine year old boy, I gave strict orders that if I saw that gun lay around where a certain three year old brother could get it, I would take that gun into time-out for a week. Since last Spring I think I’ve taken personal ownership for at least five weeks. Follow through might not be my strongest parenting skill, but I’m a cat stalking a mouse on this one.
An Airsoft gun isn’t your average bb gun that you used to load with metal balls and cock and shoot aluminum cans off the fence with. Made to be close (nearly identical!) replicas of real guns I find these guns to have a sinister quality that I’m working hard not to allow into the house. These close replicas are supposed to have an orange tip at the end of their barrel flagging them as imitations, but to date two young boys have been killed when police shot them thinking that the guns were real. In one instance apparently the orange tip was either painted or removed.
You see in a former life I was a middle school teacher. In Colorado. In a neighboring district on the day that Columbine occurred. Besides the images of kids walking out of Columbine High School with their arms behind their heads. . .I’ll remember my Grandfather from Ohio calling me with panic in his voice, “Are you safe?”
And so, here I am, a mother of five, no longer teaching. . .no longer living in Colorado, but an advocate of universal background checks and the abolition of assault rifles with their high capacity magazines.
And, yet for Christmas my ten year old, who needs to sleep with three lights on, wants a small arsenal of airsoft semi automatic assault rifles. He wants protective gear to wear so that he and his friends can have airsoft wars and shoot the small plastic balls at each other.
And, I just don’t get it.
I’ve said repeatedly to my child: No. No. No. I even tried to explain why I don’t even want to have a replica of the guns I oppose in my house. My son tries to point out from the pictures he’s printed from the computer the little orange cap at the tip of the gun designating them as not real. “SEE MOM? THAT ORANGE THING AT THE TIP? IT MEANS IT ISN’T REAL,” he says in a slow, exasperated voice. And I literally squint at the pictures trying to detect the orange.
I don’t care. I don’t want replicas of these weapons here. I don’t want my child running around the field by our house trying to shoot someone or being shot at. “Why,” I question, “would you want people shooting at you? Those things will sting.”
I offered him power tools as an alternative: “Go out and build something. Make, create.”
This offer and plea has fallen on deaf ears because the attraction, maybe the adrenaline rush, of running and hiding and shooting doesn’t compare to creating a birdhouse. He likes the drama of the war even as he has no understanding or experience with the real thing. Mostly, though, he doesn’t share my same experiences with the mass shootings that have occurred all too often in my lifetime. And even the most recent horrific one that occurred two years ago this month at Sandy Hook, we tried to shield him from much of the news. He was in second grade then–too young to understand or process that horrific tragedy.
A friend laughed at me and claimed that I saw these toy guns as the “gateway” guns to the real ones. . .and maybe she wasn’t too far off the mark. I don’t see the Nerf guns that are strewn all over the boys’ bedrooms as a problem nor do I think anything other than amusement when the boys and sometimes their dad suit up for epic Nerf gun battles–complete with hiding behind the couch and ambushing the opposing team.
But these airsoft guns feel different–more real than the neon Nerfs and therefore closer to the real thing and further in need of imagination. And, as Scott and I talked about it, I don’t see the purpose in these real life looking guns. “What skill is he building or practicing? ” I asked Scott. “Does all play need to involve learning a skill?” was his response. And, I have to answer: yes. And because I can’t even imagine my tender-hearted boy shooting an animal (he sobbed when his sister’s hamster died), I’m not sure exactly what these semi-automatic-looks-nearly-real guns could be teaching him.
I can’t even go forward with the “this is a boys’ thing” or as Scott compared it to playing cowboys when he was a kid. Didn’t those rifles look like real ones? And I am left wondering where, exactly do you draw the line? Is there less imagination going on because these airsoft guns look so real? Are the airsoft war participants dimming the line between reality and pretend? Is this a phase and I should just lean into it knowing that like his obsession with Thomas the Train and Bleybades, this too shall pass?
Am I becoming a mom who see threats where in fact there are none? Will I figuratively die on a principle that only I find worthy? Interestingly, I have little or no qualms about buying the four year old the cap gun pistol that he saw in a local outdoor sporting goods shop. Does this mean I have a double standard?
I don’t have many answers. I just know that I have literally a little more than two weeks to come up with a gift that captivates him as much as these guns have.