When I was growing up, my parents often brought my brother and I out to spend time with my grandparents. We’d spend the day at their home, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, where the surrounding corn fields stretched on forever. At least, it seemed that way to me as an energetic eight year old. To keep my brother and I occupied, one of the things my grandparents did was to give us a couple of BB guns, pellet guns, and an air rifle and send us out into their wide backyard to plink away the afternoon. We’d set up marksmanship challenges with empty soda cans, and we even had a bullseye against which we pit our skills. One of our favorite games was to fill up an old milk jug with water and watch water empty out in little streams as our BBs (or pellets) punctured the milk jug. I know my brother and I weren’t the only kids to grow up playing with toy guns, but these days, toy guns (or even breakfast pastries that may resemble guns) can get a kid in a lot of trouble.
There’s a slew of references online of children who have found themselves in hot water for playing with, or just having in their possession toy guns. I’ve selected three to share with you here.
The first comes from an article published to the Washington Post back in February. A ten year old boy was given a plastic toy gun (one of those toy pistols with the bright orange tips) during a visit to the dollar store with his cousin. Enamored with the new toy, the child brought it with him to school in his backpack. He made it through the day with no incident, and after school, he migrated the toy pistol from his book bag to his pocket. While on the bus ride to the Boys & Girls Club, he pulled out his new toy out from his pocket to show one of his friends. He then replaced the plastic toy in his pocket, and the quiet bus ride continued. Unbeknownst to the boy, the interaction was witnessed by a girl sitting in another part of the bus. She must have been startled by the event because, once she got home, she told her mother the story and how it upset her. As a concerned parent, the girl’s mother called the school to inform them of what happened, and to find out if there was any more information. The next morning, upon arriving to school, the same boy was stopped, his backpack searched, and his toy discovered. Upon finding and identifying the toy, the school administration called the police and the ten-year-old was arrested and taken to the court house where he was photographed and fingerprinted. In addition to his ten day suspension, the child now has a probation officer and a court date to address the dollar store plastic he brought to school.
However, children don’t have to have toy guns at school to find themselves in trouble over them. The second story I’d like to share comes from The Daily Intelligencer segment of NY Mag. A couple of boys were playing in the park with a pellet gun. A neighbor lady saw the children’s play and was first startled by the sight of a gun in the hands of children. She then realized by the nature of their play that their “firearm” was, in fact, a toy, and posed no great threat to her. She decided then to call the police. Her reasoning being, “He’s brandishing a firearm and I don’t care if that firearm is plastic. That’s unacceptable.” The police must have agreed with her stance, as they arrested the boys father on several charges, including child endangerment. In defense of their actions, the police explained that arresting the man was “…really a way to educate people. …You cannot run around with a realistic-looking gun.”
Although, having a realistic-looking gun isn’t a necessary parameter to cause a child trouble. The third story, reported in Pennsylvania’s Daily Item, I’d like to share revolves around a five-year-old girl and her Hello Kitty© bubble gun. While waiting in line for the bus after school, the child pointed her pink gun at her friends telling them she was going to shoot them, and then fired bubbles at them. She then announced that she would shoot herself, and proceeded to aim the bubbles in her direction. Someone must have found this play offensive because the next morning, the girl was pulled from her class and questioned for three hours – without her mother’s knowledge. After being grilled, the girl was suspended for ten days for her “terroristic threat.” Her mother, distraught over the interaction, argued her daughter’s case with the school administration. As a result, her child’s suspension was reduced to two days, for her “threat to harm others,” and was required to have a formal psychological evaluation. She now has the label of “troubled person” on her permanent record for playing with her bubble gun at school.
These three examples of children finding trouble from having or playing with toy guns demonstrate just how sensitive people have become about firearms. While the debate over gun control and gun bans rage in Washington, children are punished for the same types of play my brother and I enjoyed our entire childhoods. It is puzzling for me to imagine that the games I considered great fun and times when I bonded with my brother would now be greatly troubling in the eyes of many concerned citizens. What do you think – are toy guns still appropriate in today’s political climate, or should they be banned?