Gun-ho!

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SHERYL DIXIT looks at the fascination about weapons that captivates the imagination of little boys

 

toy gun4

 

“I love guns!” declared my 8-year-old son with enthusiastic fervour. “So do I!” piped up his 6-year-old brother. I cringed as I do every time guns are mentioned. I don’t like guns. They conjure up thoughts of war, violence and gory death. But lately I realised that I was losing the battle. For their birthdays the tykes got about 8 toy guns between them. Most looked harmless, but there were a couple of mean-machine ones, which I quickly banished thinking, out of sight, out of mind. And of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Several of my older son’s classmates have arrays of toy guns of varying shapes, sizes and brands and they discuss the merits of each. My son was entranced when he realised that he already possessed such an arsenal, and suddenly his interest shifted to guns from origami, somewhat radically! After days of nagging, one rainy day in the school holidays when I was swamped with work, I relented and let the boys unpack a toy gun each. They were enchanted and excited in equal measure, and set up an impressive tower of toilet rolls to use as a target. As I gradually grew into the idea, they played with the toys in the backyard, through the house, and I got used to the familiar click-click-click as the magazine was slid into position prior to taking aim. But recently, innocently enough, they took their toy guns out on the street for a play. Now we share the street with friendly neighbours and their broods, and suddenly, it wasn’t all that okay to play with guns any more. My neighbours with younger children and girls weren’t that keen to see their young ones running around with my boys, pretending to shoot at one another with these ridiculous looking elongated orange darts. But we are all invariably polite, so nobody said anything other than mention in my presence that their kids were not to play ‘gun’ games.

I can completely empathise with their point of view because after all, I don’t like guns of any kind, real, imaginary or toy and I don’t want to have anything to do with them. But this attitude came by only in my teens after comprehending how much destruction these weapons were capable of which horrified and frightened me. Besides wars, stories of gun abuse from the United States have fuelled this disinclination of guns into a robust dislike. But looking back at my own childhood, I realise that as kids, we played games with guns too. Not the sophisticated weaponry that’s available now that apes the originals to a frightening degree, but idiotic sticks that we carried around yelling ‘Bang, bang, bang!’, or silly plastic toy revolvers that made a sound suspiciously like someone was inopportunely passing wind. They interested and amused us, we enjoyed them and they never really did us any harm.

When we understood what guns were actually used for (and discovered boys), my friends and I lost interest in these toys of destruction. But in today’s world, where exactly can we draw the line? Banning them completely from playing with the things simply increases the urge to play with them with the petulant disobedience that children have. How do I prevent them from playing with water pistols that give them so much riotous pleasure? Do they stop attending parties that have laser skirmish sessions or not go paintballing? How do I explain why policemen and the armed forces use guns and why shooting is an Olympic sport? For how long can I avoid popular video games of gore like Halo and Call of Duty that fascinate 11-12 year olds with their brutality? And the biggest torment of all – do I take away the innocence of their gun games by conjuring up visions of bloody mayhem and destruction to stop them from playing with toys to which I have a personal abhorrence? Shouldn’t they be given the opportunity to understand and make up their own minds when they are older? “It’s just a game to them, and playing with guns in moderation is okay,” said a friend, renowned for her common sense and practicality.

“They see their friends playing with guns, it’s simply the current influence of their peers. Like most other fads, this too will come and go. When some other idiotic toy becomes popular, they’ll forget all about guns!” I agree with her reasoning. We’ve been through it all before – the fascination with Ben Ten, Bakugans, Beyblades… all of which now sit in a box ready to go to the charity shop. Perhaps this obsession with toy guns will follow the same route. I have to live with the idea that guns are the flavour of the day, and accept that playing with the despicable things are not likely to turn my boys into instant terrorists with a yen for bloodshed. In fact, I have now begun to explain that guns are weapons of protection for the innocent, that they have to be used responsibly and sensibly. My kids are allowed to play with toy guns only a couple of times a week, usually shooting at a target or playing ‘cops and robbers’ with our neighbour’s son who’s a bit older than them. They are not allowed to shoot directly at anyone, and never at adults. Nor can they use the toy guns to threaten or cajole. They play the usual games of running races, yelling competitions or riding their bikes with the other children, but not with toy guns, specially when the littler ones are around. And it hasn’t been difficult for them to accept these terms.

Now they have a good time, their desire to play with guns is satiated, and they only whinge when darts disappear in the bushes. But my innate fear and dislike for guns has barely receded. I will take the occasional pot-shot at a target to let them know that mum’s aim isn’t that bad, but it’s always with a sense of inexplicable apprehension. As their skills in marksmanship are being honed, I won’t object too vociferously. But I will keep my fingers crossed for the next fad to kick in – perhaps knitting, crochet or even pottery… I wish!