I don’t presume to know what compels a young person to open fire on unsuspecting and defenseless people. Lack of support for aggressive behavioral issues, widespread availability of firearms, and images of violence in the media are all common influences cited after tragedies like the mass shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now Newtown, Connecticut. I believe all three of those issues play a role. However, there is a relatively new phenomenon that makes my skin crawl: toy versions of these deadly semi-automatic weapons.
Being a mother of a young boy, when I see photos of the Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, my mind jumps right to this:
It’s true I don’t understand gun culture, but I do understand the Constitution of these United States. I can comprehend the Second Amendment and the legacy of gun ownership that is entrenched in our society. These toy guns have nothing to do with the Second Amendment though. They are nothing more than tiny toy terror. They should be wiped from store shelves and e-commerce sites immediately. Admittedly, I am not a fan of toy guns in any shape or size but who or what condones these brightly colored replicas of killing machines?
These products are nothing short of appalling in the hands of children and teenagers. One only need read the descriptions on the box to be convinced of that:
- Rapid launching action increases your battle speed and accuracy!
- The first fully automatic Nerf Clip System blaster to date
- When it comes time to unload on a target, pull the Acceleration Trigger to spin the motor up to launching speed, then blast a semi-auto swarm of darts as fast as you can pull the Launch Trigger.
- Aspiring vigilantes aged eight years and up will be totally equipped to fight bad guys with the Nerf N-Strike Stampede ECS.
The manufacturer suggests children eight years old and up can enjoy these weapons. Despite the fact that the men in the ads look old enough to vote or perhaps legally drink alcohol, the age range for this product begins with a third grader. I don’t know many third graders who are “aspiring vigilantes” but I wouldn’t be sad if they dropped that one from their list of potential career choices. Not that the “and up” is much better. I certainly wouldn’t buy this for a teenager as they go through, quite possibly, the most confusing and unstable years of life.
How can you explain to a child that somehow this is appropriate as a toy, but as a real object its only purpose is to inflict incredible harm on others? It’s not that I think playing with guns will make your child a violent person, or even that a child who is drawn to this type of toy is destined to be a killer. However I am still unclear of the purpose of these guns. To simulate mass shootings? The answer I hear most often is to “battle” one another but that simple concept doesn’t defend the sale of toys like these.
Kids have been role-playing good vs. evil – as cops, cowboys, or mythological gods – probably since the beginning of time. Children can continue to explore these roles in society with their friends without cutting edge technology in toy gun semi-automatic weaponry. I see the value of a prop in child’s play, but not these. My kids are going to have to learn to shoot themselves with props created by their own imaginations and not with the aid of dart-shooting semi-automatics.
Some people may say “it’s just a toy.” My response would be “that’s just an excuse.” An answer like that is a lazy person’s excuse for not thinking about the repercussions of giving a child a gun like this. What are you trying to teach them? Even a toy gun needs a context. Any context where you can imagine a toy like this being used, I can guarantee there is another toy or another way to work out the dynamic in a manner that doesn’t reproduce weapons of great destruction quite so literally. Kids have wonderful imaginations, let them use those to play.
Given the horrific consequences of mass shootings like the ones we have endured in the past 10 years or so, I would never ever allow my children to touch toys like these toy guns. I refuse to encourage them to play out scenarios where they are blasting their target over and over in a matter of seconds. They will not be given the opportunity to mistake the power of these rapid fire weapons with toys.
Can our children understand the consequences of the real version of exactly the gun they are holding? They are almost incomprehensible to me as an adult. Many dead, hundreds grieving, an entire nation in pain. We only need to witness the continuing cycles of sadness and anger over the tragic Newtown events to know the potential for ruining lives reaches far beyond the gun’s direct line of fire.
Toy guns, whether as shocking as the machine gun versions or as “harmless” as the handgun variety, have no place in our history. They are afforded no protection by our Constitution. The production of such “toys” should be discontinued now.