A community on Long Island, New York, is trying to encourage kids to rethink what they see as toys in an annual tradition that some are finding controversial. The Village of Hempstead invited kids of all ages to turn in their toy guns and water pistols in an effort to teach kids to say no to guns. In exchange for their toy firearms, some of the kids have received what might be considered nonviolent gifts instead. But a furious debate has emerged online, as some people applaud the community for taking a stand against gun violence, while others argue that the the toy drive isn't giving kids the right messages about guns, either.
The town decided to make the drive an annual tradition in an effort to teach kids that guns aren't meant for playing.
In 2015, 2,824 children died by gunshot and 13,723 were injured. An estimated 89 percent of all child deaths by gunfire happen by accident at home, and as the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia noted, "most of these deaths occur when children are playing with a loaded gun in their parent’s absence."
Which is why the Long Island town has found it necessary to teach kids that guns are not playthings. According to ABC7, on December 13, kids of any age were asked to bring in their Nerf guns, water pistols or any other replica gun toy in exchange for another toy sponsored by the Village of Hempstead.
As Hempstead Village Mayor Don Ryan explained, they started the drive because they wanted to teach young children that "saying no to guns is important—even toy guns."
"The purpose is to offer a safe alternative to toy guns. We don't want the kids playing with guns. Guns are dangerous," added Hempstead Village Trustee LaMont Johnson.
Any toy gun could be exchanged for a different toy, in hopes that kids won't feel as if they're giving something up in order to do the right thing.
Former New York Police Department Officer Sean Acosta works with the New York Toy Gun Exchange Program and brought the kids gifts that they were able to exchange for the fake guns.
"I want to make sure when you grow up, nothing happens to you," Acosta told a group of about 50 elementary-aged kids. Many of the children brought their own toy guns from home to exchange for the new presents.
Lieutenant Derek Warner from the Hempstead Village Police Department explained that toy guns can often be mistaken for real guns, especially when played with outside at night. That's why he discouraged any parent from buying a toy gun for their child, even if it's brightly colored or a water pistol. "Toy guns can be a dangerous item to give your children," he said.
Online, some people got heated about the toy drive, arguing that it was completely unnecessary. One person felt as if toy guns could be a tool to teach young kids how to use firearms safely.
Although, it should be noted that toy guns don't have the same features or functions as a real gun and as the study above found, many times kids confuse real guns for their toys.
Another person was not about to give up their Nerf guns.
But not everyone was against the toy drive. Many people felt the move was brilliant.
"Guns aren't toys and shouldn't be treated as such," one person wrote.
One woman wrote in that even though she's all for a "healthy minded adult" to own a gun, these "colorful toys" are not the best idea for kids.
In the end, you might not want to get rid of your kid's toy guns completely, but it is important to teach children that guns are not playthings.
This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site CafeMom.