My 4-year-old loves toy guns and I don’t know how to parent that

mcmullinThere was a standoff in our living room this morning. A group of knights attacked a group of pirates right there by the coffee table. There were several casualties, including horses that needed immediate attention while armed policemen waited nearby. There were reports of slain dragons, a princess who fainted, and a child was driving the rescue truck. A police helicopter was hovering over the scene.

It was mayhem.

This type of violence is not uncommon in our living room these days. My son is 4 and a half and he likes to play with soldiers and pirates and policemen. And swords. And guns.

I grew up in Europe where I knew exactly one person who owned a gun. I never actually saw said gun, just heard that one of our neighbors liked to hunt. The  police came to question us before issuing his weapons permit.

In fact, I never saw a gun until I met my father-in-law a few years ago. He lives on a farm in central Pennsylvania, and the cabinet next to his bed is filled with shotguns. He uses them to hunt and to shoot sick animals or unwelcome groundhogs. One time when we were visiting, he left his shotgun casually leaning against a car we wanted to drive. Seeing my husband pick up and move the gun made me queasy and uncomfortable. What if it goes off? Do guns do that, just by accident?

Read the rest on The Washington Post site!

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8 thoughts on “My 4-year-old loves toy guns and I don’t know how to parent that

  1. James says:

    The big point of this story that I see is ignorance. So many out there complain about guns but know nothing about them. Instead of being afraid of something that you dont know about, go take a shooting course. Learn about guns. You will quickly understand that a gun is nothing but a tool. If not taken care of and treated with respect it can hurt. But without you to control it it is nothing. Shooting is a lot of fun. The real problems arise when you or your child is ignorant and doesn’t know what to do with one. There is a reason everyone in the country has guns and has no problem with them while everyone in the city where most gun violence occurs does. Education.

  2. Greg Yielding says:

    Boys and Guns?

    Well, first let me say I’m a parent who also has a son. both of us born and have always lived in
    this country. Now, having said that…

    I see that you are from Hungary and Jewish. I can’t help but think about the history of that country. In less than 3 months in 1944 Hungary “deported” more than 430,000 of it’s citizens (Jews) to a place called Auschwitz, I read that your own family endured the horrors of the war. After the war Hungary was run by puppet dictators of the Soviet Union, in 1953 after people had had enough
    some rose up in revolution, many were killed by the Russian army but it was not until the downfall of the Communists and the withdraw of the Russian army in 1991 that freedoms begin to be enjoyed by Hungarians.

    Today Israel is being attacked by the terrorist organization Hamas. The Russians are orchestrating a takeover of Ukraine.

    Now for your 4 yr. old, he’s fine he’s 4 yrs. old. He seems to understand good from bad. It’s up to you and his dad to teach him about the reality of swords and guns and it looks like your father in law certainly can.

    But don’t be afraid of weapons because the lack of them or the lack of the will to use them will always have disastrous consequences.

    So remember what you said about guns “Frankly, I don’t understand their purpose beyond killing things.” Well they have a purpose and the fact that so many people have them in this country and the fact that my son will be using them as a United States Marine makes your home and your family’s life a little safer. A level of safety you don’t get anywhere else in the world. So all you have to worry about is the mortgage, whether to have another child or go jet setting around Europe.

    One more thing to think about: In that country that you lived in why do you think the government would make it so hard to own a gun?

  3. Kylie says:

    I read this on the Washington Post. Very well-written. I struggle with this too. I work in the field of gun violence prevention, and my father was shot and killed by a gun (in the military), so I’ve never wanted toy guns in my home. Imagine my chagrin when my 2-year old started making pew-pew-pew sounds and pretending the letter-L magnet was a gun! He learned that way of playing from other boys at school. None of them knew what a gun was or what it does, just that holding things that way, pointing them at people, and making that sound is a fun way to play. It’s so hard to see! And it’s so hard to explain to children, isn’t it?

    I really, really like that you talk to your son about other ways to resolve conflict. I’m curious is toy guns are as widely available–omnipresent, really–in Europe as in the States?

  4. Mike Charters says:

    First off, let me say that I am a Canadian. Our laws are very different. Guns here must be locked and stored safely now. It wasn’t always that way. I remember the rifle and the shotgun beside the front door of our farmhouse. I remember understanding that I was never to touch them. When I was 8 I got my own rifle. There were clear cut rules. Never point it at anyone, or at anything you didn’t intend to shoot. Never shoot a living creature unless it had to be done, for food or protection. I learned respect, not only for firearms but for rules, my elders, and the law.

    Firearms don’t have to be a bad thing. I find pleasure in shooting at targets, at challenging myself to be better. It’s cathartic in a way. Shooting well requires self discipline. When the adrenaline is pumping and your heart is racing it’s very difficult to be accurate.

    Even if you never intend to own a firearm, you should learn firearm safety and pass that on to your child. You can’t protect them from everything, but knowledge can provide a little padding.

  5. Sandra says:

    I have no doubt children are wired with certain desires. It is my experience boys gravitate in one of two ways..guns/swords or cars/trains.
    I am a native of the rural Southeastern US, and guns are part life. My age is 58 and the rural county school I attended had many pickup trucks with gun racks on the back windshield. There was no gun violence. No thought that someone would storm the schoolhouse and mass murder. In fact, I’m quite certain a gun was available to staff, and, if the aforementioned had occurred it would have been dealt a swift conclusion.
    My son was born in Atlanta and has grown up near Charlotte, NC. He is not a rural kid but suburban to his core. Guns and swords were always his expression of play and at the age of 22, his video game interest is knights, swords and slaying the dragon. He is a successful college student, works 25 hours a week at the local ACE hardware and has such a tender heart for animals it can sometimes be difficult for him to maintain his emotion when he is witness to violent acts. We have guns available and he knows how to shoot. He would defend if necessary but it is not in his soul to harm.
    We never censored his gunplay.. He in fact had an arsenal at his disposal. All the other little boys loved coming to our house and playing war etc. digging trenches, ambush enemy soldiers. Their parents were so highly evolved they were not allowed even a water pistol.
    So..my personal experience is this…the more we censor the more inviting the forbidden will become. Now, there are people in this world with intent to harm..why..I have no idea. But if your son is loved and sees kindness and respect for life, unless mental illness becomes apparent I truly believe he will grow up to be a son you will be very proud of.

  6. Aili McKeen says:

    I’m a GIRL, and I can’t remember the first time I played with toy guns. We had cap guns but I honestly thought it was more fun to explode the caps by smashing them with rocks (more visual). But, since my Daddy taught me right, I started shooting real guns when I was 7, and never in my 49 year life have I had an unintended discharge. This is a fun sport my family has shared & we’re also active in several types of shooting competitions– we do archery was well as pistol (IDPA), rifle (steel plate) and shotgun (trap and skeet) games. My elder brother, who was really into blowing things up as a kid, ended up getting his Ph.D. in Chemistry and is a world-renowned polymer coatings specialist. If he had grown up in the 2000s, rather than the 1960s, he’d have been jailed before he was 17. My advice: take away the mystique and next year, get him a rifle coach. He could be an Olympiad someday!!!

  7. Aili McKeen says:

    PS: Since you’re in Connecticut, I would recommend talking with Dave Lyman at Blue Trail Range in Wallingford. He started shooting at age 4.

  8. Joe Hartwick says:

    You mentioned that you are unsure how to teach your son to be safe should he come in contact with a real firearm. Please go to the National Rifle Assoc. web site and search for “Eddie the Eagle”. It is the NRA’s award winning safety program: http://eddieeagle.nra.org/

    NRA membership is NOT required and the program does not promote firearms ownership, it’s ALL ABOUT SAFETY for little kids.
    Please do this, it is genuine good stuff. Contrary to what the media implies, the NRA is extremely focused on safety, that is why they offer so many classes on firearms safety for all ages.

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