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Why Don't Toy Gun Bans Extend Beyond Halloween?

Photograph by Getty Images

The message was clear. It was bold and underlined and in no uncertain terms: Toy weapons of any kind would not be permitted at the elementary school's annual Halloween parade. This means the non-battery operated light saber for my son's Darth Vader costume would have to stay at home Friday. I explained this to him, as did his teachers, and he was fine about it. Now, if only there was a way to keep that "no toy weapons" message running through the other days of the year.

The thing is, I'm firmly anti-gun. I don't believe the average citizen should have them in their homes. I grew up in Canada where gun control laws are strict and meaningful, and there's no debate or contention around any of it. However, living in the U.S. and raising a family here, I pay very close attention to this country's gun sense or, moreover, the lack thereof. I don't want my child around guns. Period. This firearm ban includes the toy versions too.

Over the last five years, I've been able to maintain this no-guns policy without issue. Even my son can tell you my stance regarding these killing machines. "Mom, that LEGO guy has something in his hand that you really don't like," he'll say, when we're flipping through a catalog or zipping by (because moseying is a mistake, friends!) the toy aisle at Target.

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But over the last five months, things have begun to tilt a little. It started with a blue water pistol given to him in the loot bag from a summer birthday party. He was more into the other cheap trinkets than the gun, so I was able to slip the plastic thing into a cabinet in the mudroom. Then one day, as if to taunt me, that damn squirt gun fell out of the cabinet and landed by his feet. He asked if he could fill it up and play with it in the yard. I said yes, but only for a short while. I told him he wasn't allowed to point it directly at anyone. He still had fun spraying the water at flowers, the grass and into the air.

He's a kid -- there's always fun to be discovered.

A few weeks later, he went to a buddy's house for a playdate. Of course they ended up playing with the boy's toy laser guns. "But just for a little bit of time, Mom."

I figured this moment would come, the one where I need to recognize and reconcile the fact that my reach as a parent and guide has a limit.

And then Kindergarten happened. Everyday this kid would come home talking about some new character or superhero or ninja that a schoolmate was talking about at recess, nearly all of them in fighting mode, all carrying a weapon of some sort. My son has never once watched a show or seen a movie featuring any of these characters. (Even his latest interest in Star Wars sprang forth from LEGO.) But there he was explaining all the details of the Ninja Turtles and Batman.

I figured this moment would come, the one where I need to recognize and reconcile the fact that my reach as a parent and guide has a limit. I can't (and don't want to) hover over my son at every playdate, trying to dissuade him from picking up a toy gun. I can only hope that my thought-through opinions about the real dangers of guns and gunplay will take root with his young mind and instill a sensibility that he can continue to develop as he grows.

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Maybe it's one that makes him pause and wonder: "Hmm. What would Mom do?" Listen, I don't have the bubble. Let me have a little slither of wishful thinking.

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