If there is one thing that gets everyone riled up it's whether or not adults should allow gun play to happen as part of children's play or not. Whether gun or other types of 'violent' play leads to aggressive behaviour later on in life or whether it's just another facet of children's creativity.
For starters I will state my position in an effort to show my objectivity on this issue...
I hate guns...
Yes - I know what you're thinking. Hate's a pretty strong word isn't it? Well when guns are responsible for 10's of thousands of human deaths every year, not to mention a lot of animal species being driven to the brink of extinction by virtue of guns - It pays to be strongly opposed to it. My position is that guns should have no place in our physical worlds....but they do.
Guns saturate our television screens, they are part of our military and armed forces and are mostly glamourized by media and social events dedicated to the men and women serving in the armed forces. There is a definite certainty when it comes to guns - We will never be able to get rid of them...not completely. So as long as there are guns (and remembering the certainty we discussed), kids will continue to idolize them and what they are capable of doing. And how in the hands of a 'good guy' they can dismiss any unworthy adversary.
So the important question is - do we ban it or not?
As an anti-gun advocate my gut feeling would be to say YES!! Ban it, ban it all to heck! Cast those pretend guns into an invisible vat of molten liquid and melt them into imaginary ingots to be dispersed among the village folk!
But I would be committing one of the worst adult-crimes against play imaginable - I would be denying the undeniable, and trying to shut out a fact of life that children KNOW exist and in a lot of instances, are exposed to. Children (yes even the ones most of us consider too young to 'grasp' a lot of things) deserve the right to be able to explore and take apart all aspects of the world around them - the good, the bad, and the unfortunate.
I don't think we should even go to the lengths that some suggest and enforce 'rules' around guns if children do in fact choose to become involved in gun-play. I am sure a lot of people would disagree with me but I think licenses aren't necessary, children shouldn't be required not to aim at 'real people', we don't need to post pictures of wild animals around the place to use as substitutes for human casualties, and we need to stop continuing this idea that a half an hour of spontaneous gun-play will somehow result in children reaching adulthood and suddenly going on a shooting spree. There are then two options.....
- Let it pass - Turn your back, take a deep breath, and go do something that you as an adult find interesting. If gun-play isn't your 'thing' then do what is necessary and move away. Resist your -adulting- temptation to ban everything involving an 'L' shaped hand symbol and move away. The play will eventually lead to zero real bloodshed and a bunch of kids exhausted and ready to eat something.
- Join in - The only difference between gun-play and family play is that gun-play is less sexist. I've seen kids chuck babies in fake microwaves! Groups of children torture snails in the name of science, plough two cars into each other only for one to free-fall from the bridge they constructed out of wooden blocks. None of which stirred as much controversy as two kids pretending to shoot each other.
Now - where do I sit in those two options? As I mentioned above, I am not a fan of guns at all. So I abstain from engaging in play involving guns, unless of course I'm shot at and then I get out of the way! Ever notice that in these grand imaginative war like games the adults are never asked to be main characters? We're like the extras, fodder in goods pursuit to triumph over evil.
I let it happen, and I let it pass. There to regulate if other children are dragged into the game that really didn't want to be a part of it. But other than that, I watch to see if a new hero emerges, someone who before the game might have been a little too shy to engage in imaginative group play but having something in his or her hands, something he or she might recognize as familiar has given him or her the confidence to act out whatever is waiting to be unleashed from their endless imagination.
I take comfort in knowing that taking a non-active role in gun-play means that children have one more opportunity to build their awareness about social justice, resilience, relationships, power dynamics, gender equality etc. In a half an hour (or more) of play.