My 5 year old son, Carver, has been begging for months for a Nerf gun. Today is no different. He even brought it up to my Mom, “I’m more of a Nerf gun guy, not a real gun guy because I don’t want to hurt anyone.” He comes home from school with talks of birthday parties, he says his best friend promised to buy him a Nerf gun for his birthday.
We aren’t much of a gun family. Craig has a gun, he’s had it since high school. Craig used to work in sporting goods in high school at Mills Fleet Farm. He loved selling guns but only ever had one. It’s broken apart in three separate pieces and even stored in different locations around the house so there’s no chance of the boys accidentally finding it. He’s shot it once with my brothers the entire time we’ve been together. Craig went hunting one year but didn’t get anything.
I was on the trapshooting team in high school. I wasn’t any good and I never shot my own gun, I always borrowed from someone. I’ve shot trap with my brothers who have grown to be gun enthusiasts. I was even pretty young the first time I shot a gun. Craig and I have taken hunters safety classes. It’s not like we weren’t around guns when we were younger, but we just aren’t a gun family.
This doesn’t stop Carver from longing for a Nerf gun. It’s been a hard no from me for several years now. Honestly, we don’t even have squirt guns. Something just doesn’t sit right with me about handing a kid a toy gun until they can understand the weight of a real gun.
The weight of a gun in our country is heavy. The weight of a gun carries thousands of mass shootings that seem more and more common every day. When I first thought of writing this post, I was mulling over the shooting that happened in Buffalo, New York. By the time I had collected my thoughts, there was another shooting in Uvalde, Texas. As I sat down to type this, there’s a shooting in a hospital in Tulsa, OK.
I can hear the comments now, “Now Kalissa, giving your kid a toy gun isn’t like giving them a real gun.” You’re right, but I wonder how old Salvador Rolando Ramos was when he was first given a toy gun. After all, he was only 18 when he murdered nineteen students and two teachers last week. He was hardly an adult himself. Did he have to sit through hunter’s safety class? Did his Mom and Dad take him to the gun range and teach him to shoot? Did he get a Nerf gun for Christmas?
“Well now Kalissa, just because you give your kid a toy gun doesn’t mean they’ll become a mass murderer.” When Payton Gendron’s parents let him play with his first gun, do you think they intended for him, at 18 years old to enter a supermarket and murder 13 black people? Do you think his parents, knowing what they now know, would have ever handed over the toy gun in the first place?
“It’s just a toy!” Tamir Rice was 12 years old when he was shot by police for playing with a toy gun in Cleveland, Ohio. He was pointing what was reported to dispatch as a “pistol” at random people in a park when someone called 911. He certainly didn’t understand the weight a gun can carry, especially when the color of your skin makes you 3.23 times more likely to be shot by police according to a study released by researchers at Harvard. How can my son understand the privilege’s he holds because of the color of his skin? How can he understand that even being under suspicion for having a gun could get you killed?
“My kids played with guns and turned out just fine.“ The Columbine High School Massacre was not the first school shooting in our country, but laid the blueprint for many school shootings to come. I was 4 years old in 1999. I can vividly remember watching shooting after shooting play out on the Today show while I ate my breakfast before I went to school in the morning. I’ve never not had to practice an active shooter drill. I would worry about what would happen if I was in the bathroom during a lockdown. I’m a part of what is being called the “Columbine Generation,” I’ve never known a world without school shootings. Things have changed, things are continuing to change. What used to be acceptable child’s play is now an introduction to a world of gun violence.
“As long as they are taught how to use it safely, there isn’t a risk.“ Tell that to my best friend who lost her cousin to suicide. Tell that to the family of a young man in our community who lost his life in an accidental shooting while surrounded by his friends. What about the 4 year old from our own school district was unsupervised when he fatally shot himself in the head. These aren’t just statistics about some far away land, these are people in my community. Iowa ranked 20th in 2016 in accidental shootings involving children.
As a grown woman, I can’t even process the weight a gun bears in our country, why would I be in a rush to lay that burden on my 5 year old?
In conclusion, it’s just a Nerf gun. It’s just a super soaker. Yet, with every mass shooting, with every accidental shooting, with every hate crime, with every man or woman who takes their own life, with every officer involved shooting, with every young man or woman who lays down their life for our country, the weight of guns, whether they are plastic or shoot water, or shoot ammunition, becomes heavier and heavier.
For a mother to take pause before handing that weight over to her child, isn’t an overreaction. It’s the only way I know how to protect him in a world where going to school, going to work, going to the supermarket, or even a 12 year old boy, playing with a toy gun in a public park isn’t safe anymore.