Are Toy Guns Ever Okay?

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Like many parents, I made a few vows against vices before giving birth to my son, such as no TV, no junk food, no sleep training, no kid clutter and no taking them to the groceries or the mall. Some I abide by but most are now laughable. As it happens, one of those vows included no playing with toy guns. Well, turns out we have toy guns… sort of.

Are Toy Guns Ever Okay?Before I get into our toy guns (yes, plural), below are a few reasons I didn’t want them:

  • I never liked or played with guns. Even though I played rough and watched TV growing up, I had zero interest in the actual shooting up of the bad guys.
  • I don’t like the idea of making a game out of killing people.

On the other hand, I can understand some of the arguments for gun play, particularly from author Nancy Carlsson-Paige, author of Taking Back Childhood. In her book, she asserts that gun play, particularly where children create the entire scene all by themselves (as opposed to re-enacting scenes from TV shows) helps children sort through their aggression and help them beat the “bad guys” of their world.

Since kids rely on play to apply logic and understanding to so much of what confuses them, gun play seems to play a predominant role in helping them recover lost power over the bad guys and express their aggression. After all, kids play doctor to help them take back the control and power they lost being in the vulnerable position of patient, just as they do playing house to sort through family roles and changes at home.

Still, I wonder about killing play. Couldn’t kids just box the bad guys until they’re squished and small? Pound a play dough to rid themselves of aggression? Run as fast as they can to relieve any bottled up emotions best expressed physically?

For me, playing killing games seems to place less value on life, considering the lethality of the weapons they’ve turned into a game.

But back to our guns. We happen to have three small water guns, purchased on a sweltering summer day when all we could find to squirt water at one another were the small ones we ended up buying. We call them squirters and we don’t play dead when we aim at one another. It’s the first time our son has seen a toy gun, bu who’s to say how he’ll use these toys in the future? Will I tell him we don’t make a game out of killing people? Will doing that glorify guns even more?

As of right now, I don’t see myself promoting guns but I won’t be overly strict either. I wouldn’t buy my kids toy guns or encourage killing games, but, like many of the vows against vices I had made in the past, I understand that I’m better off taking it on a case by case basis.

Kids who play with guns—even for killing games—don’t grow up any more violent or aggressive than those who don’t. Many purported reasons for gun violence, including music, movies, TV and video games don’t make a person more likely to kill.

Still, guns in general bother me. And I would much rather my kids not play with guns or submerge themselves in violent media. The lethality of guns doesn’t seem all that much fun to me. I’d rather play a game of chase around the house.

What are your thoughts on toy guns and gun play? Do you let your kids play with toy guns? Why or why not? Do you explain the idea of guns to your kids?

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Nina

Nina is a working mom to three boys—a five-year-old and toddler twins. She blogs about parenting at Sleeping Should Be Easy, where she writes everything she's learning about being mom and all its joys and challenges. She also covers topics like how kids learn and play, family life, being a working mom and life with twins. Download her free ebook, "Time Management Strategies for the Overwhelmed Mom" for more tips.

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  1. Steph says

    This one is tough for me. I don’t like the idea of killing games either and we don’t have any toy guns in the house. But my kiddo came home from church the other day pretending her hands were guns and shooting people…complete with sound effects and everything. Because many people in our area own real guns, we have explained to her that guns hurt people very badly and she should always, always ask an adult before she touches any gun – even if she thinks it’s toy. (And I unashamedly ask people about gun safety if she’s going to be away from me in someone’s house.) I’ve pretty much been ignoring the pretend shooting because I don’t want to overreact and I know she’s going to continue encountering kids who pretend that way. But I’m still thinking through the matter…
    Steph recently posted..Gender RevealMy Profile

    • says

      Like Tragic Sandwich’s mom said, kids can still make up guns using sticks, other props or even their fingers. Where I live, I don’t know too many people who have guns (just one friend) so I can imagine it’s a different mentality when it’s more of a norm to own a gun. That’s great you’re on top of asking about people’s gun safety when she’s at someone’s house. I would do the same if I knew we were going to someone’s house where there was a gun in the house. I think like most habits that we would rather our kids not pick up, I too would probably ignore it if my kid played guns with his fingers or other props.
      Nina recently posted..Are toy guns ever okay?My Profile

  2. says

    My mom let us have toy guns; she said that she noticed that kids who weren’t allowed to have them just substituted sticks and pretended they were toy guns. That said, I don’t remember playing with them a lot, and I do remember yelling, “Mom! Make him stop shooting me!” about my brother.

    I think I’m probably okay with the kinds of toy guns in the picture–water guns that are clearly fanciful. You will never see anyone in a movie or a procedural pull one of those out of a holster.
    Tragic Sandwich recently posted..New Year’s ResolutionMy Profile

  3. says

    You are right Nina, this is a very common struggle for parents. As a play therapist I also must determine the types of aggressive toys to include in the play room. I have a couple guidelines that can be applied in parenting as well. First, the weapons can never be pointed at a real person. If they point a gun at me I redirect them to point elsewhere. Secondly, my guns are the nerf kind that discharge some kind of soft dart. The idea here is to reinforce that something does come out of a gun when the trigger is pulled. Third, I reinforce the play room is a safe place for expressing this kind of aggression but they should use more appropriate behaviors outside the playroom. This can be applied to the home as well. Great post Nina.
    Kim Peterson recently posted..Distracter Blasters!My Profile

    • says

      Thanks for sharing, Kim. I hadn’t considered even pointing at someone as something to be redirected. From your experience, do you know if gun play is beneficial or necessary, or can the same benefits be attained otherwise?
      Nina recently posted..Are toy guns ever okay?My Profile

      • says

        First off, you should do what is comfortable as a parent. It’s not necessary for any developmental or social reasons that kids have a toy gun, but as mentioned already, kids will find a way to make a gun with their fingers or other items. Playing good guys and bad guys and using weapons to fight is a healthy type of play and completely normal. When they use “guns,” use that opportunity to teach responsibility and instill your family’s values about guns and other forms of violence, as well as healthy ways to solve their problems.
        Kim Peterson recently posted..Distracter Blasters!My Profile

    • says

      My brother-in-law, who used to work in movies, had a gun prop made completely out of rubber, but man it looked so real that it really freaked me out. I have the same feeling as you about guns; they just don’t conjure positive feelings for me.
      Nina recently posted..Are toy guns ever okay?My Profile

  4. Molly says

    This is a tough one for me. I have never liked guns, in fact I’m afraid of them. However, my husband is in the Air Force and as security forces carried a weapon daily. He also plays various video games using weapons. He and I vastly disagree on weapons, violence, and our son being exposed to these. I will not allow any toys guns because I don’t think children should get the message that guns are toys. That being said, my son’s current favorite pretend game is pretending to be a knight and “get bad guys” with his sword(a kitchen spatula) and I’m not sure that makes me feel any better than a gun.

    • says

      Molly, I wonder about other props too. If not toy guns, I’m sure kids will play samurai or Jedi and slash at each other with swords. Would that then be more appropriate? I’m not sure about the answer, either.

      I think I’m on the same page as you in that I don’t promote gun play or violent games or shows. Like I said in the post, I don’t think these necessarily lead someone to go out and kill someone, but I still feel like there are better games or ways to spend your time.
      Nina recently posted..Are toy guns ever okay?My Profile

  5. Ana says

    This one is a tough one for me. We don’t have any toy guns in the house. I am completely opposed to them and opposed to Lucas playing with them. However, squirters are OK for me. I mean, it’s totally fun squirting water especially on a hot summer day. The day that we introduce video games to Lucas, I’ll be very strict on what actual games he’ll play (no violence, no guns). Of course, we don’t seclude him in a tiny little bubble away from society but I just think we should lead by example, especially as parents. I won’t judge a parent if they let their child play with toy guns but I won’t be the first one to buy a toy gun for him either. Great topic!
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  6. says

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Growing up in a family of hunters, I’ve never had a problem with my kids playing with guns, but I agree it’s an important issue that should be thought through. I’m trying to remember when my son started to want to play with guns and I’m pretty sure it was when he went to pre=school and the other boys were playing ‘Star Wars’. He had never seen the movie (and still hasn’t) but that’s all it took. He’s loved to play with them every since but only shooting the ‘bad guys’ as he says. Interesting thoughts!

  7. says

    Australia has very tight gun controls and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real gun before except maybe in a cop’s belt. I don’t think I’ll buy toy guns either but understand that kids will be kids and inevitably they will use their hands or sticks to do the trick. You can get water pistols that don’t really look like real guns now so I’ll be okay with that, but I’ll still feel uneasy with a toy gun.
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    • says

      That was totally my goal too: to get a squirter that didn’t look like a gun. Believe it or not, Toys R Us actually ran out of water toys (I guess it was the tail end of summer) so we had to resort to the 99 cent store for mini water pistols.
      Nina recently posted..Are toy guns ever okay?My Profile

  8. says

    Ugh. So tough. So tough because there is so much outside influence no matter what you do at home.
    My oldest is 6 and he only owns water squirters that friends from England bought here to help with a hot NYC day. I didn’t say anything, no big deal and he doesn’t ask for toy guns.
    It’s hard when older cousins play video games, I always feel like the uptight aunt. It’s also hard that some family members go to the range or hunt. I have asked them all not to talk about it in front of my boys.
    I am so anti-guns even though I grew up in a home with a gun. But I also understand that kids will karate chop you, laser beam you and wrestle you to the ground with or without a football-even if you have sheltered them from it all. I discuss the proper way of “playing” (yes, I intervene as my middle child is 2 and both boys think he is 5!) and when it is appropriate and when it is not (like at school or church).
    I can’t stop thinking of this amazing article I just read 5 minutes ago in the NYT Magazine, coincidentally, and a quote I’m paraphrasing from a mother: “If there would have been no gun in the house, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened”. From the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/magazine/can-forgiveness-play-a-role-in-criminal-justice.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    Thanks for posting Nina!!
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    • says

      Betty I like how you point out that it’s really not so much about sheltering, since there will likely be a level of influence that we as parents can’t control even if we wanted to. My approach is more like, I won’t encourage things I don’t like, but if it’s there, then we can tackle it as it comes, such as explaining it to them like you said, setting boundaries, etc. Thanks for linking the article, too.
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