My son and toy guns

Yesterday was my seven year-old son's "gotcha day"--a day we we celebrate his adoption, when he officially became ours. I took him to one of our local bookstores to let him pick something out; I had hopes that he would choose a new chapter book, a comic, or maybe even an atlas (he's really into maps right now), but the minute we stepped foot in the toy section of the bookstore, I saw him lock eyes on it. I tried to redirect him, "Hey! Look! An atlas of space!" I shouted and pointed to a shiny cover on the top row--but there was no turning back.

"I want this. Can I get it?" he asked without taking his eyes off the tiny, chintzy, plastic, orange toy gun that would surely break by the end of the week that nearly all kids from the 70s and 80s had.

It was his gotcha day, and 20 minutes earlier he had given me a guilt trip because I didn't spoil him like his Grammy does.....so reluctantly, I bought the damn toy gun....along with two books (just in case you think I'm a super crappy parent).

When we got home, he ripped through the packaging that was just as cheaply made as the toy, pointed the gun at me, and yelled "WORLD WAR TWO! BANG! BANG!" I laughed nervously, and replied, "Okay, Ralphie--it's time to get ready for bed..." despite being three in the afternoon. Just kidding. I didn't call him Ralphie...that's just a shameless reference to A Christmas Story....also, it was 8 PM...thankfully I had a viable reason to redirect my son and his new interest in guns and war and violence.

Once he was in bed and the plastic gun rested safely in its cheap plastic holster, I texted a mom friend and asked her how she handles the toy gun issue with her son.We talked about how boys tend to gravitate towards toy guns, how many peaceful men we know and respect played with toy guns and turned out just fine, and about our own context we bring to this issue.

You see--when I was in the seventh grade, a classmate of mine was shot and killed by another classmate. It was ruled an accidental death, but it still haunts me. And when I became a teacher many years later in an urban area, I became a support system to many students who had lost parents, relatives, and friends to gun violence. These personal experiences combined with current events have left me stymied with how to handle my seven year-old son's new, natural interest in toy guns. If I'm being honest, it shakes me to the core when I see him innocently grip this tiny piece of cheap orange plastic. And what do I say to him? How do I engage in an age-appropriate conversation about this--an issue so fraught with emotion? It's a realm of motherhood for which I hadn't planned. I'm secretly hoping that the gun breaks tonight and I can chuck it in the recycling bin and move on---but I know this interest won't go away that easy. So parents, how do you deal with toy guns in your house? What sort of ground rules do you set and why? How do you explain these to your kiddos? I'd love to hear your feedback because I'm in a world of unfamiliar territory here.

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