A few weeks ago, my eight-year-old daughter came home from school with a gun.
OK, let me rephrase that. My daughter came home from her summer program, at school, the other day with a gun. A gun she made herself. Out of paper. And she was quite proud of it.
And I didn’t go ballistic.
This was no simple piece of cardstock cut out into the shape of a gun. It was made up of two pieces of paper rolled up into tubes and taped together to be the barrel and handle, and another two pieces of paper taped to them to be the trigger and trigger guard.
She was a little confused about terminology, though. She had thought that the “lever” (her words) you pull on was called a pistol, but when I informed her that the gun was the pistol and the level was the trigger, she was surprised.
Not just surprised that she was wrong, but also that I knew so much about guns.
“How do you know so much about guns?” she asked.
“Because I played with them when I was a kid. Everyone played with them when they were my age. And some of those guns shot plastic bullets!”
It’s true. If you grew up in the 50s and 60s, you played with guns. Whether it was cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, or secret agent, you played with guns. I have home movies of a bunch of boys – and girls – in my aunt’s basement at Christmas, having a good old time playing with the latest cowboy rifles. I didn’t get the official James Bond secret agent attaché case with the hidden gun, but I got the Secret Sam knockoff that did the same thing. I remember the look of surprise on my cousin Ricky’s face when I shot his hat off.
I was pretty surprised too – because I normally couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
But yes, we all played with guns. Girls too. Dale Evans was right out there shooting along with Roy Rogers. We all played with guns because we all understood that people had them. In our world, guns were like steak knives: they were morally neutral. Everything depended on what you were using the gun for. With that in mind, if you were going to pretend to be a police officer or a cowboy, you needed to have a gun. Similarly, if you were pretending to be the bank robber or the cattle rustler, you needed to have a gun.
But something happened over the last 40 years. Toy guns and pretending to play with guns got a bad rap. It was felt that playing with guns would make you grow up to be violent and want to shoot people in real life. Schools discouraged kids from playing with guns or pretending to play with them. In fact, schools discouraged children from having toy weapons of any kind – even as part of their Halloween costumes. Knights couldn’t have swords, Luke Skywalker couldn’t have his light saber…and cowboys couldn’t have guns.
And this is all because now we see the weapon itself as evil, and not the potential use of it.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m no rabid NRA “everyone should have a gun, or three, or seven” type. I know how many people are killed as a result of gun violence. I’ve known people who've been killed by guns. I’ve looked down the barrel of a gun once or twice myself. I know that there’s no such thing as a drive-by stabbing. But I also know that most people who played with guns as kids didn’t turn out to be criminals, and I’ve seen reliable figures that show that more children die from accidental drowning in swimming pools than from accidental shooting.
I say we should get a grip, and rethink our gun phobia.
And by the way, I think my daughter did a pretty good job.