“I Thought My Sons Shouldn’t Play With Toy Guns. I Was Wrong.”

Readers ihksebfsyz
This Atlantic.com essay by Christine Gross-Loh, author of  Parenting Without Borders,  does a great job of shooting the alarmists down. (Couldn’t resist!) The Free-Range Kids angle? One of the chapters in my book is called, “Relax! Not Every Little Thing You Do Has That Much Impact on Your Child’s Development.” That includes curating their toys. – L. 

Keeping Kids from Toy Guns: How One Mother Changed her Mind by Christine Gross-Loh

When my husband was growing up, the only boy in a family of all girls, his mother didn’t allow him to have any toy guns. He was a mild mannered, sweet little boy. But when he was five years old, he ran over to his friend’s house and “borrowed” one of the toy guns he had played with over there and coveted, stashing it in his bedroom.

For years, every time I heard what has become a famous family story I sided with my mother-in-law…. I had a keen desire to protect my boys, a certainty I could steer their play in the right direction, and a categorical abhorrence for violent toys of any kind. Their first toys were blocks, puzzles, and cooperative games. They were empathetic and kind boys. I felt no small triumph that my strategy had worked: my gentle sons didn’t even know what weapons were.

Then my firstborn went to a birthday party. In the goodie bags for these four-year-olds was a plastic toy gun. My son was utterly riveted. I tried to coax it away from him. “Bang bang!” he shouted, running around with the other kids. Just days later my shy little two year old fixated upon a toy sword that came with a pirate toy someone had given him, and would not go anywhere without it. I could see that the ludicrously small sword made him feel brave. I tried (unsuccessfully) to pry it out of his tiny hands. That he liked the weapon so much deeply unnerved me…

Lenore again: Read more here (especially the part about Japan, where the schools ENCOURAGE kids to play with toy guns)! And then you’ll get to my favorite paragraph:

Although many of us in America worry that gun play desensitizes kids to violence, the research doesn’t bear this out. In fact, it can actually help teach children to read each other’s facial cues and body language, figure out their place in a group, and learn how to adjust their behavior in social settings.… Children don’t see their own play through the lens that adults do. To children, gun play is play, while to American adults–especially in the post-Columbine or Newtown era–gun play is violence.


Is this an item of violence or fun?


48 Responses to “I Thought My Sons Shouldn’t Play With Toy Guns. I Was Wrong.”

  1. tracey August 16, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    When my eldest son was about 2, I remember reading about the instinctual need to “defend the cave” that most of us (especially boys) have inside. Differentiating between good guys and bad guys, protecting those you love, being a hero… None of that sounds like bad life lessons to me.

    My father had about 3 toys in his childhood, growing up after the Depression. A teddy bear, a wagon and a BB gun.

    I am happy to say that he did not turn out to be a psycho killer, domestic abuser, or gun-toting fanatic. I’m pretty sure my own kids will be fine, as well.

    Bang bang.

  2. DaveS August 16, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    I suspect the real underlying reason some people want to keep kids from playing or even thinking about toy guns, at least here in the US, is that it is somehow supposed to denormalize guns/gun shaped objects in a vain hope that in twenty or thirty years when the kids grow up they’ll be perfectly happy with banning the real ones. Also that the idea that it ‘desensitizes kids to violence’ is the cover story to hide the real intention.

    Little tin-foily I guess but it is plausible.

  3. Linda Wightman August 16, 2013 at 9:15 am #

    I’ve said it before: our society has gone plum crazy. Everyone I know who self-righteously said, “MY child will never have a toy gun” (we were the make-love-not-war generation, after all) ended up with kids who cheerfully used sticks or their own hands or anything else as guns. I fail to understand why people think they can correct violent attitudes by banning weapons — and I’m almost certain shaming and frightening children is more likely to create violent attitudes than innocent play with pretend weapons.

    And don’t get me started on squirt guns! A society that would ban, or even discourage, that kind of harmless water play has forfeited any right consider itself civilized.

    Shame on the Strong Museum of Play — of which I have fond memories — for capitulating to parents in rewriting history. Sounds more like a totalitarian state than the land of the free and the home of the brave.

  4. Alicia August 16, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    Thanks for posting this. My 3 year old found a stick at the park on Tuesday and played with it like a gun, making “spew-spew” noises out of it. We have not had any guns or exposure to anything like that even in our media choices so I was surprised. Like a lot of stuff I face in parenting my fearless boys, I am trying to learn to let go of the not-actually-dangerous stuff.

  5. Gary August 16, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    HUGE trigger…no pun intended…for me.

    I grew up playing with toy guns, guns made from twigs and sticks (if you could get a straight long branch with a piece sticking off for the pistol grip you were golden) and you were the machine gunner or sniper.

    I also had a house full of them and my sisters and I grew up LEARNING and RESPECTING them, what they were, what they could do. We could touch them all we wanted as long as my father was there, if not, it was strictly verboten.

    I come from an outdoors family who hunts and still do and the biggest thing is to demystify the tool, teach your children to respect, to handle it safely and they will be better off.

    Remember the line from Full Metal Jacket when GySgt Hartman was saying a rifle is a tool of iron and wood and it is a hard heart that kills?

    yea, that…

  6. Janice Stoffel August 16, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    MY son had an pre-school teacher who dis-approved of super hero t-shirts (somehow this brought out behavior that she thought was destructive) and making the gun shape with the thumb up and index finger pointed out and kids making BANG BANG noises. She even told the kids that guns were bad. Being in the Air Force and married to an avid hunter and gun enthusiast, you can say we were NOT amused. I had to explain to my then 4 yr old that guns are not bad or evil. I asked him…police officers carry/use guns are they bad people? soldiers carry/use guns are they bad people? Daddy uses guns is he a bad person? The lesson he learned that day is that guns are not bad….people use guns for good reasons and people use guns for bad reasons. At 12 yrs old, he is learning about proper handling and use for guns and rifles/shotguns. He is not afraid of them but he certainly respects them.

    And yes, he had plenty of toy/nerf guns to learn and have fun with!

  7. Diane Pratt August 16, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    You don’t even need to buy a toy gun. Just give your boys some Pop Tarts.

  8. Warren August 16, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    Parents have been stupid about toys, since toys were first made.
    Just look at “The Burgermeister” in Santa Claus is Coming to Town. LOL.

    Barbie’s are sexist, degrading towards women, give girls the wrong idea of what women should look like and on and on.
    Toy guns promote killing, violence, desensitize kids to guns and on and on.
    Video games promote violence, killing and desensitize kids to violence and killing and on and on.
    Rock and roll music promoted drug use, alcohol use, orgies, fights and on and on.
    Jazz………..see rock and roll.
    Movies………..see all the above.
    And the list could go on forever.

    The problem is that these parents apply their own adult values, adult views, adult ideals to kids toys and such. Kids do not place the same values or views on things as adults. They are kids. To the adult it is a gun, to the kid it is a toy.

    Just like with the whole tv channel in the previous point. The adults saw it as they kids wanting to watch sex, when it was not that at all. It was just kids wanting to watch a channel they knew they were not allowed to watch. A big difference between watching something for it’s sexual content, as compared to watching something for no other reason than to try and get away with a forbidden act.

  9. Severine August 16, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    This is so very interesting!!!
    I personally despise weapons so much that my kids know it’s a rule not to play with “weapons” in our house.
    Reading this is making me question the concept now!
    Thanks for this, I suppose we never stop learning. 🙂

  10. Gary August 16, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    “I personally despise weapons so much that my kids know it’s a rule not to play with “weapons” in our house.”

    may I ask why?

  11. Kim August 16, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    The problem isn’t with gun play of 4 and 5 year olds. It is the violent video games that are so realistic where the kids (and adults too) shoot things up that desensitizes people. Training that our military personnel does so that they can go into combat is similar.

  12. Jessica August 16, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    My kids have bitten toast into the shape of pistols. Keeping toy guns away from them is a fool’s errand.

    They happen to be history buffs, particularly fascinated with Ancient Rome (swords) and the American Revolution (muskets). Toy wooden muskets have proven to stimulate hours and hours of creative play, which, combined with poring over books about American history, has made for educational and fun activities I could only dream of for them. We also have a pretty good arsenal of neon-colored Nerf guns and Super Soakers.

    The 7 and 11 year old have both enjoyed archery at summer camp, and if they wish to learn target shooting with rifles at appropriate ages, I will not stand in the way. I would much, much rather they enjoyed this sport than get absorbed into hours of first-person-shooter video games before they are old enough to put those in perspective. I would also like them to know how to safely handle any firearms they might encounter out in the world.

  13. Rob O. August 16, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    I tend to side with Kim in that I worry much less about my 7 yr old having guns (although we do minimize that) as much as I worry about teenagers being immersed in gratuitously-violent video games that feature the types of experiences that until recently only shell-shocked solders were exposed to.

  14. Alec Duncan August 16, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    @Kim: the problem with the theory that violent video games desensitise people is that if it were true society should now have descended into a welter of murderous violence, with ever increasing rates of violent crime.

    But it hasn’t: the rates of violent crime has been going down for 20 years, at exactly the same time that realistic video games have become hugely popular. There can’t be many teenagers or young adults who haven’t spent many hundreds, or even thousands of hours playing first person shooters, yet this doesn’t seem to have increased gun-related violence anywhere in the world.

    And I suspect that that is because the players know just what they are doing: they are PLAYING. They are fully aware that the game is just that: a game. They aren’t training to kill, they are training to get better at playing games.

    That’s an entirely different mindset from a soldier training in a combat simulator, where the overt intention is to train the soldier to become an efficient killer in war. And only in war: veterans may have been trained to be killers in war by these simulators, but when the leave the forces they don’t have higher rates of violent crime than the general population.

  15. Jayna August 16, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    This reminds me of my cousin telling me what her 6 year old son said when she threw out his Legos so he’d stop making toy guns with them- “Good, then we’ll just fight with our hands. It’s more fun anyways.”

  16. BK August 16, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    As a teacher, I am required to uphold and enforce the school rules, which include no gun-play. I’m always apologizing to the kids when I stop them, and explaining that maybe we have this rule because some adults don’t understand the difference between real and pretend???

  17. Rob August 16, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    My own kids were, unfortunately, not allowed to play with toy guns because my wife did not approve of them, and although I tried to convince her it was harmless, it was a battle I eventually lost.

    But my own experience playing with toy guns as a kid in the 70’s was this: it didn’t matter how many of us were playing, we were all always on the same team, and we were all the good guys. The bad guys we were shooting at were all imaginary. I actually don’t remember a single time that we ever played against each other. At times, one of the imaginary bad guys would get in a good shot and one of us would be wounded or killed. The woundings always required rescues (teamwork!) and the deaths required funerals (with 21 gun salutes, of course!). The deaths would allow us to expand our storyline by introducing a new character or bringing the dead person back as a genetically engineered super power or bionic man.

    I don’t know if anybody else played this way, but I have to believe we weren’t the ONLY kids out there who shot at imaginary bad guys instead of each other.

  18. Donna August 16, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    Kim – Remember that correlation isn’t causation. I would venture to guess that people who are violent have indeed consumed far more violent media than those who have not. However, did the violent media cause the violence or are violent people naturally drawn to violent media? My guess is the latter since we’ve had violence since the dawn of man and, as Alec pointed out, that violence is not increasing with the uptick in all these realistic violent video games. In fact, violence was HIGHER before we had all these games. Maybe having a virtual outlet for violent tendencies has actually stemmed some of the need for real violence.

    As for kids with guns, whatever. I am not opposed nor in favor. I don’t have a problem with kids and guns, and have bought a squirt gun or two, but I don’t think it is something kids must have for a proper childhood either.

  19. lihtox August 16, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    I’m a proponent of gun control, but I agree that stopping kids from pretending is ridiculous. I think it’s partly a selfish desire to keep kids “innocent” because it upsets US to hear kids talking about violence. (Just like we get upset when kids joke about poop and butts and all the other things they’re not “supposed” to talk about in public.)

  20. Jeff August 16, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    Reminds me of my Child Development teacher in college. He and his wife were very anti-gun-play, made sure there kid had no exposure to guns, and all that jazz, but one day their kid just started pretending to shoot a gun. He explained that he was quite confused at where his kid got the notion, concluding that he probably saw another kid at school playing like that. The moral is, there is no way to prevent a child from being exposed to guns in this day and age, so forcibly controlling their exposure to guns and usage of gun-play will only be harmful in the end or at least not effective.

    My mom got me water guns and nerf guns and plastic guns that made noise, but now as an adult I personally don’t want to even touch a gun, real or fake, much less use it. I also find those plastic guns that make noise highly annoying; I always wonder what parent in their right mind would buy their child that knowing he will be using it day in and day out. I would want to throw it out before I even got to the register with it.

    And as far as video games, the research is very mixed. For every study you can find that says violent video games promote violent behavior, you will find as many if not more that say there is no correlation, much less causation, between the two. The biggest thing to take away is that parents need to control what kinds of video games their children play (a 10 year old doesn’t need to be playing M-rated gore-fests for instance), how long they play it (rates of hours of gaming per day are thankfully going down in the last year or two), as well as making sure their children are properly contextualizing the games they are playing. If a 10 year old kid plays Call of Duty 6-8 hours a day with no parental involvement in this activity, he probably will turn out to be more violent than if he waited until he was developmentally ready for such a game and played it in moderation. This is coming from someone who grew up as an avid gamer because of an over-protective mother BTW. And even though I did not like it at the time, she thankfully controlled what kinds of games I could and could not play (at least at home).

  21. Zeynep Badur August 16, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    I think most all or nothing approaches are wrong. If you put to much emphasis on guns, you just make them interesting. My son had guns (or swords etc.) I can understand being concerned, if the child shows signs of confusing real and pretend. I think the key is talking about stuff that concerns you, rather then banning it. What I found most helpful was watching Myth Busters with him. They blow things up for fun and science not for killing anything and talk about safety a lot. That way it is not a constant lecture from me.
    That said I have a bigger problem with “Barbie” for my daughter.
    She has a couple of Barbie’s, but she wants everything with just Barbie’s face on it. I hope this will pass too 🙂

  22. Puzzled August 16, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Alec – I’m not sure whether or not video games desensitize, but that is a pretty large false dichotomy. Saying that video games desensitize doesn’t mean that everyone who plays them will be a psychopath – picture it this way. Suppose we all have some number of ‘control points,’ with the max being 100 and the min being 0. If you hit 5 or fewer, you become a murderer. Maybe video games take away 2 points – no problem for a person with a score of 90, a big problem for a person with a score of 6. Over simplified, of course, but you get the point. Something can push someone over the edge without having the same impact on non-marginal people.

    I’m in general on board with toy guns (and I’m an opponent of gun control) but I can’t help being freaked out by airsoft. Toy guns are one thing, but a totally realistic model (complete fetishization of what is just a tool of self-defense) that is intended to point at other people and pull the trigger – don’t think so. I don’t think shooting water guns, or fake guns, at other people, has the same impact as shooting something that looks and feels like the real thing. Then I’m just freaked out by the fact that the things exist, and are so expensive. But I wouldn’t keep my kids from having them, and we have an airsoft program here at the school which I’ve made no effort to eliminate – not because I pick my battles, but because my sensitivities aren’t those of others.

  23. Becky August 16, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    I’ve always thought that if you don’t play with plastic, flimsy, light-weight, brightly colored toy guns, you’re more likely to look at a heavy, metal, real gun and think it’s a toy.

    “I personally despise weapons so much that my kids know it’s a rule not to play with “weapons” in our house.”

    Well, we’re a family of fencers. All of our friends are fencers. Growing up without weapons would be pretty hard in our household. Do you have an issue with weapons that are sports equipment, or do they get a pass?

  24. Neil August 16, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    I’ll never forget reading a story in John Eldredge’s book “Wild At Heart” (or maybe it was in “The Way of the Wild Heart”). A family was of the same opinion, although to the extreme…their boys received cabbage patch kids for Christmas. A short time later, the parents went on a date one night. When they arrived home, there was a glazed look on the babysitter’s face. “I don’t know what happened. They’re outside. Go see for yourself.” They had tied the cabbage patch kids to a tree, and were running around the tree with sticks and staffs, whooping like Indians.

    You just can’t reprogram boys. Violence is part of it. You can only manage it (which is very important), not get rid of it.

  25. Jeanette August 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    The first thing built with Duplo blocks after a tower? A gun.
    And about violent video games – you’ve beat that dead horse enough! Haven’t people been fighting & killing each other with weapons since people existed? Not sure what video game the Romans played (Grand Theft Chariot?) or the Aztec (Grand Theft Pyramid?), but they sure had some methods to kill people.

    PTSD is proof we are not desensitizing all our soldiers.

  26. ND August 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    I think this is oversimplifying a complicated issue. There are more reasons to ban toy guns than a simple fear of violence, it depends on the child and the culture the child is being raised in.

    I was allowed toy guns from the time I was old enough to distinguish my neon yellow squirt gun from my father’s actual rifles and pistols. I had an air rifle when the same distinction could be made. The squirt gun was for playing, the air rifle was to teach me proper weapons handling and safety. If the air rifle was pointed at something inappropriate it was taken away. The rules were the same for all of my siblings, but we didn’t all receive our guns at the same ages because we didn’t all develop at the exact same rates.

    My parents were also able to be far more relaxed about toy guns than some of my aunts and uncles because we lived in a fairly safe area. Several of my cousins lived in rough neighbourhoods where guns and gang violence were glorified. Those cousins weren’t allowed toy guns not because they were considered inherently violent, but because teen gang members often used them to “train” younger relatives. They played with water guns and Nerf guns when they came to our house, but never at home.

    That’s without getting into the question of more realistic toys. Air Soft makes a line specifically designed to look and behave like their bullet-bearing counterparts. I wouldn’t want those used for free play simply because it’s too easy to get confused — whether you’re talking about a six year old or a trigger-happy law enforcement officer.

    It’s not as easy as “all or nothing”. It’s important to take a variety of factors into account and make a context-based decision. Sometimes that’s going to mean no toy guns even if you don’t think they promote violence.

  27. Really Bad Mum August 16, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    My kids where not allowed toys guns til they both learnt gun safety and to shoot properly, this is because even though Australia has tough gun laws, their grandparents have guns , safely locked away and we spend alot of time out bush… Once I was confident they where 100% on the safety I allowed toy guns… but applied the rules, don’t point it at people, or yourself, and pretend it is real….

  28. Warren August 16, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    Violent video games do not make healthy individuals more prone to violence. Same for toy guns or real guns for that matter.

    Being prone to violent behaviour is something that is either there or it isn’t.

    There are also a difference between being prone to violence, and being capable of violence.

    Some are prone to violence. Where it is how they act and react on a regular basis. Where they commit horrible acts against others.

    Some could not be violent no matter what. They are not capable of a violent act even as a matter of survival.

    Then there are those that are not violent by nature, but given the right conditions can make the decision to use violence.

    It is who they are, are really cannot be changed because of a toy gun or video game.

  29. Gina August 16, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    I was adamant about not having toy guns when Jordan was a born (in the Stone Age of 1984)…three boys later, I have no issue with toy guns at all.

    Children need to feel powerful over their environment. They know that toy guns are not real. My children were well-educated about what to do if they came across a real gun (don’t touch, get a grown-up immediately).

    My boys are now 16, 26 and 29. I can tell you honestly, none of them has ever had a fist fight..or even hit another child in anger (except their sibs)…They all play the most violent video games and have since they were young. They are among the kindest, most compassionate people I know and are definitely not desensitized in any way.

  30. rae August 16, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    My main problem with guns play is that I personally detest it. Toy guns: First, I HATE those nerf bullets everywhere. Hate them. If will not pick them out of dust bin, they go in the garbage. Second, I have a kid with almost no impulse control (in therapy, working on it, we will get there- but at the moment, none), and I don’t enjoy being hit in the face (or anywhere else), with projectiles. So, go play guns somewhere else. Cap guns are fine… I guess I have a problem with bullets. I don’t mind the video games if they wear a headset… we have a small house and I really have a problem when ‘screen time’ takes over the whole house. So basically, I’m a giant stick in the mud on this issue.

  31. JD August 16, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Fantastic articles. I have friends who did the “no guns, swords, light sabers, or anything else that could be remotely considered a weapon” thing with their kids. For a while, I thought I was the “bad” or “uncaring” parent on the block who let her boy have these toys. And yet, my son is highly empathetic and has always been The Defender of all the kids in the neighborhood against any bullying. I don’t know if his gun play had anything to do with that, but I do know that it certainly never hurt him.

  32. ankle August 16, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    I started taking my boys to the range, with live weapons, when they were about five years old. They knew before we got there that they were dangerous, and that if they didn’t follow a well-defined set of rules, they wouldn’t be allowed back for a very long time. They were better behaved than I’d ever seen them before. Our children (the girls as well as the boys — and all of them are interested in shooting) have regular exposure to guns, real and fake. I carry a gun most everywhere we go. They know the rules of gun safety, and they follow them even with the fakes. For instance, you don’t run around with your finger on the trigger, ever. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be guns, but I’m pretty convinced kids ought to have the opportunity to do dangerous things, to learn first-hand that following rules is sometimes a very important matter.

  33. lollipoplover August 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    I hate parents who think they can mold their perfect child by limiting toys. Don’t kids get any say in what they enjoy playing with? Should I not let my son play the Pretty Pretty Princess game with his younger sisters because he might grow up to be a crossdresser or over-accesorizing hipster? I treasure those pictures of him with clip-on earrings and tiara.

    The kids have epic Nerf battles in our neighborhood. Both boys and girls play cops and robbers and manhunt and have water gun/water balloon wars that often end with drenched adults too. It’s just children playing!

    I personally am not a fan of guns but my son knows how to shoot and all my kids are into archery. We educate our kids on weapon safety. You can only snow plow so much out of their childhood until you realize that teaching responsible handling of weapons is wise. If only it were so easy as to restricting their toys.

  34. Scott August 16, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    My wife wont allow the kids to have toy guns but said, “Go to the shooting range with your father if you want to shoot a gun.” So we do.

    My 9 yo has his “own” 22 rifle that we take to the shooting range. We usually go with other dads. Firearm safety is strictly enforced. He knows what a real firearm is, what it can do and what it sounds like. Also how not to be foolish with it.

  35. Stephanie August 16, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    My kids love their squirt guns. The one rule is that if someone says stop squirting them, you stop. No Nerf guns because my youngest thinks the darts are fun to chew on.

  36. Rachel August 16, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    Phew!! Now I don’t have to feel so conflicted that I let my boys play with toy guns when they were younger, and yes, they now play shoot-em-up video games with what looks like no negative consequences for either the 12 or 15 year old.

    Even though it is more unusual for girls to want to play with guns, I was one of them. I begged my parents for a toy gun when I was about 6 or 7. Reluctantly, they bought one for me–but the reluctance was a sexist thing, and not an anti-violence statement.

  37. anonymous this time August 16, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    For a while with the Nerf guns, we simply confiscated the darts when they were abandoned on the floor and behind furniture, etc. We kept them in a “bank” and the boys had to earn them back by doing stuff around the house. Kind of killing two birds with one Nerf gun…?

  38. Kimberly August 16, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    My extended family includes kids currently age
    9, 8, 7, 5, 5, 2

    With the exception of the 2 yo everyone of them knows about guns and how to handle them. The guns are in locked cases, even the BB gun is under lock and key. It is a GUN not a toy. They “play guns” a lot less than other kids I know.

    The two big rules hammered home are
    1. Always treat every gun like it is loaded
    2. Never point a gun at someone/something unless you intend to kill/destroy it.

    They tend to turn sticks into swords or bows and arrows – not guns.

  39. fred schueler August 16, 2013 at 10:04 pm #

    Back in the 1950s, with parent and grandparent who had served in the World Wars, we were taught that shooting at People was too serious a thing to play at, and we didn’t have toy guns in the house, and weren’t supposed to (and didn’t) pretend that anything was a gun being pointed at a Person. We weren’t non violent and did throw things at each other, and knocked each other over and sat on each other’s heads, and watched Dad shoot at targets and Woodchucks, and we were taught how to handle firearms at about age 12, and I went on to be something of a Bird collector in graduate school. I find it interesting that the kids in some of these no-toy-gun families want to play with guns – we never did, and our first act of political protest was to refuse gifts of toy guns from Santa Claus at a company Christmas party.

  40. rhodykat August 16, 2013 at 11:06 pm #

    We are a gun family. My 8yo son had a friend over, and he would not let go of a laser tag gun that we had. I commented on it at some point and he said “I’ve never had a gun to play with before!” Fast forward a week, and the mother had me on the phone saying that her son went home saying that we had guns and knives in the house and my son knew how to get them out and wanted to show them to her son. The story from my son was that the boy saw the gun safe, asked what it was, and my son explained. The boy asked to see them and my son told him it was impossible – he didn’t know where the key was and they never came out unless dad was around. Which story is true? I don’t know…I do know that the little boy who had never seen them was rather obsessed, and that my kids are rather desensitized to them because they know that if they want to see them or shoot them, all they have to do is ask and their father will take them out, safely.

  41. Alec Duncan August 17, 2013 at 5:38 am #

    @Puzzled: I will grant you that it is conceivable that video games might possibly desensitise some individuals and make them more prone to violence, but if so it must be astonishingly rare.

    Since the vast majority of young males have played violent video games (and young males have always been the group most likely to commit violent crimes), if desensitisation was anything but very rare we WOULD be able to detect an increase in violent crime. But instead we don’t see such a rise: the rates of violent crime have been decreasing.

    Now, it’s possible that such a desensitisation-related increase in violence IS occurring for a tiny number of individuals, but that it is hidden within the very much larger group of young adult males whose rates of violence are manifestly decreasing.

    But proving that this actually is happening in the real would be an astonishingly difficult research project, and not one that anyone has ever attempted to do. The vast majority of research about this has been laboratory-based research, using measures like an increase in arousal or a decrease in empathy, as measured by rating scales. Those measures are not capable of predicting increased serious violence in individuals.

    And either way, it’s clear that even if it is happening it’s not something we need to be concerned about; or certainly not one which would suggest that we should ban people from playing violent video games.

    The benefits (if they actually exist) are so tiny that the interference with the rights of the majority to play games which do not harm them or others would be an intolerable infringement. It would be like banning people from reading violent books because some people might be influenced by them to commit violence.

  42. Warren August 17, 2013 at 11:17 am #


    Well written.

    Those that are influenced by violent games or any form of violent entertainment to commit violent acts, are already prone to do such. The game or whatever is only a trigger as to what method of violence they may choose.
    The game or movie does not make them commit the act, but only gives them ideas on what or how to do it. That person is going to be violent no matter what, and will find their methods somewhere.

    Those people are mentally or emotionally ill to begin with, and there is nothing that can be done to prevent it. Banning the games or gun toy play is the same as putting armed guards in school to protect against school shooters. Trying to prevent sick and deranged individuals from commiting random acts of violence. Cannot be done.

  43. Steve S August 17, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    There is a substantial body of research on video games. Grand Theft Childhood, which came out 3 or 4 years ago, detailed a lot of it and they pointed out that there is no real evidence that video games are a causal factor of violence in youth, with the exception of some children that had already displayed serious delinquent behavior.

    As for toy guns, I have noticed a fair number of gun owners that seem just as bad as the anti-toy gun folks. They force their kids to treat toy guns just like real guns and follow the same rules as with a real gun.

  44. xpurg8d August 17, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    What Warren said is true — the people who are influenced by violent entertainment are the ones who are already predisposed to such behavior. As a kid, my brothers and I and our friends spent many, many happy hours and days playing cops ‘n robbers and other such games. We didn’t have money for real toy guns, but that didn’t matter — a stick made a good rifle and two fingers extended from the fist made a perfectly fine pistol. No matter what the game, the good guys always won.

    Then, when my son was born in 1965, I had become the most pacifist young mother on the planet. Posters from Another Mother For Peace were on the wall over his crib. Kindness was stressed in a million ways. NO guns allowed. Ever. And then, when he was about to turn four, all he wanted for his birthday was a soldier uniform and guns. Lots of guns. His dad got them for him. And when he didn’t turn into an aggressive, violent child, I was reminded of my own happy childhood playing gun games.

    That’s when I learned a lot of lessons about mothering, and I’m glad I did. My son is in his late forties now, and still a gentle, kind, intelligent man. My grandson loves playing guns — squirt guns, ray guns, cowboy guns, sometimes with actual toys and sometimes with just his imagination. We all join in the play now, and we’re better for it. Still, his preschool does not allow guns or superhero shirts.

  45. Puzzled August 17, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

    Alec – as I said, I wasn’t taking a position on the underlying question, just on the argument you gave. As to your final point – if I were convinced that video games desensitized people to violence and thus led to violence, I’d still be against banning them. But the question of banning them or not has no place in the question of whether or not they desensitize – it might depend on it for some people, but you certainly can’t trace it back the other way.

  46. bmommyx2 August 21, 2013 at 2:34 am #

    I have seen kids make guns out of their fingers, bananas, blocks, paper, you name it. My mom didn’t allow us to play with or have guns even cap guns or squirt guns. She gave us both the same tool kits & we used the measuring tape at guns.

  47. L.A. Say August 21, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    I believe that boys should play but guns should not be one of their toys, for the simple fact that it encourages violence.

  48. Frankie August 29, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    My son will make almost anything into a gun. I have never bought him a toy gun, nor encouraged it, but give him the slightest bent stick and bingo! It’s a gun. Rather than avoid the subject and pretend there aren’t actually guns all around us, I have chosen to use it as a chance to explain responsible use. I have told him he may never point it at someone or pretend to harm someone with it. I do not tolerate violence, nor am I especially enamoured with the idea of killing animals for sport. But my kid is going to play “gun” as a game regardless of what I do. Might as well embrace it and see what lessons we can both learn through his play.