Gun Debate Now Includes the Toy Industry; Should Toy Guns be Banned?

Earlier in the month I wrote a piece entitled:  “The Toy Industry; Are We the Military Industrial Complex of Childhood?”  In that posting I noted that “when the second and first amendment advocates began pointing fingers at each other after the Newtown tragedy, we in the toy industry were not accused of promoting violence.  One side pointed the finger at real guns as the cause and the other said it was due to “first person shooter games” and movies.”

As can be attested to by this headline:  “Gun-Control Debate Hits $16 Billion Toy Industry,” I spoke too soon.  The author, Beth Snyder Bulik, wrote about a blogger, Meredith Carrol with the Denver Post, who has banned toy guns in her home.  She also wants them to be removed from stores.

I was intrigued and located Ms. Carrol’s posting “Playing Around with Violence.”  I found her piece to be compassionate and her frustration fully understandable.  Many of us felt and feel so frustrated that we feel the need to take action and make a difference. 

As you will see, I don't agree with her on banning toy guns but let me allow her to speak for herself (and I encourage you to read her entire posting):

While I was at a supermarket in Aspen just a few days ago, a boy not older than 4 sat in a shopping cart being pushed by his mom while creating a war — complete with imaginary bombs and noisy explosions — between an apple and potato… It's been two weeks since the atrocities at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the thought of guns still makes me shudder with a profound sadness and dread.

She goes on to write:

If we don't think that violent video games, shoot 'em-up films, toy weapons and imaginary wars being fought by our young boys contribute in some small way to the more than 33,000 annual gun deaths, we need to think again…Little boys playing with little guns grow up to be adolescents and young adults who often feel falsely empowered by the nonsensical skills they think they've developed using a video-game controller or mouse.

She concludes her thought on toy guns by writing: “families who tacitly allow the desensitization of little kids and adolescents to blood and death, and permit violence — real or imaginary — as an activity played during family time and on home turf are fooling themselves if they don't think they're part of a larger cultural epidemic.”

What struck me was that the child in the shopping cart was not playing with a gun.  He was acting out violence using, of all things, an apple and a potato.  It is the human condition that children, and particularly boys, act out themes of violence in childhood.  Some psychologists believe it is how they adjust to the violence and possibly death that awaits them as adults.

I don’t think that a parent has a lot of control over a child’s need to act out violenceDiscouraging it may, in fact, have the same impact as depriving kids of sugary treats.  They may

go overboard in the other direction as adults.  Children have been playing with violent toys since before there were toys and I imagine they will continue to do so. 

Let me be very clear, I have in the past stated on several occasions that I believe that the toys we play with as children have an impact on who we become as adults.  It would be disingenuous of me to say, therefore, that toy gun play is an exception.

I believe, however, that if we take toy guns away, children will, as Ms. Carroll noted, use potatoes and  tomatoes an in addition a finger or a stick; it is therefore all context.

A healthy child can play with toy guns and grow up to be a healthy adult. Parents have an obligation to their sons and daughters as well as society in general to make sure that their children play appropriately and that violence does not consume them as the overwhelming point of play. 

Ms. Carroll is right; it starts in the home.  Where I disagree is in the notion that banning toys will solve the problem; you may as well ban vegetables.  What is important is for parents to monitor their children and if they don’t like what they see, take action; speak with the child and if that does not work get help.  

Toy industry members:

Do you agree with Meredith Carroll’s perspective on banning toy guns? 

Do you believe that toys guns have an impact on violence later in life?

Let us know your thoughts. 

7 thoughts

  1. I sell a store that sells jut toy guns, not airsoft or bb or real steel. And find it increasingly hard to get products. The demand is there kids and adults want these toys but companies are bowing to pressure to stop making them

  2. How about banning wars for a start? spending huge amounts of gdp then attacking third world countries is ridiculous. Then this is all over the news then filters into entertainment media. Children playing guns is a sad reflection on our society, banning toy guns is a silly reactionary stance while predator drones bomb children in other countries 160+ pakistani children dead as a result of this. Imagine a world where children never needed to simulate guns ? they do this because they are playing out the role of “protector” and reacting to the world around them.

  3. I grew up in the 40’s and 50’s. All of us kids played “war” and “cowboy”, using play guns or even, in some cases, making a rifle out of scrap wood. Many of us had guns in our homes. We went hunting and shooting with our dads, who taught us gun safety and common sense. We had a fairly large high school class of around 500. None of our classmates grew up to be killers. Nor, did anybody else that I’ve known in my 73 years.
    My grandson was forbidden to have play guns when growing up. Didn’t matter. He went out in the woods and made himself a play gun out of whatever he could find out there. My daughter threw up her hands and said, “There you go. What are you going to do?” He grew into a fine young man, graduating with honors and serving as a combat Marine 1st Lt. in Afghanistan.
    Look, simply banning something is not going to cure anything. A group of teetotaling do-gooders tried it with Prohibition. Didn’t work. Hard drugs are banned but we still have a drug problem.
    The problem in this country is not toy guns, it’s REAL guns. There are way too many of them and too easy to get by people who shouldn’t have them.

  4. A parent is entitled to do whatever they feel is appropriate, but I think cooler heads understand that toys, video games, movies and rap lyrics do not cause violence in a vacuum. They may desensitize, they make the concept of violence less unthinkable… but ultimately it is the inability of the attacker to find a better means of resolving their grievances that leads to violence. Ergo, education. It all points back to improving education so that people feel more personally empowered, so they don’t reach for a gun (or any other weapon) to fill that gap.

  5. Violence begets violence but does childhood mock / play violence beget real violence? I don’t believe there is a shred of evidence to support this supposition. Entertainment violence acts in two ways: a response to very real violence in our world and a dramatization of conflict. That’s also what violent play themes are all about. Children dramatize and overcome conflict through play, just as other emotions are handled through play. Mentally and emotionally overcoming conflict is an important facet of play experiences and development…and it’s not just for boys, though it may manifest differently. I’m not advocating for buying your kid a ton of toy guns or violent games, but the common theme throughout decades of violence at the hands of sick individuals is not video games or toy guns, it’s real guns. Access and interest in gun collecting can be a harmless hobby, but school shooters and the like have access and interest in guns.
    I grew up in the 1980s and 90s, surrounded by violent toys and video games. My parents were and are pacifists but they only objected to lifelike gun toys and were more than happy to let us play with GIJoe and other military heroes. All growed up, my brother and I are both pacifists. We are not gun owners or enthusiasts. I do still pop a nerf blaster at coworkers now and then, but that’s not aimed at maiming or killing.
    Kids need a health understanding of the difference between fantasy violence and real violence. A water gun, gijoe, or blaster toy isn’t going to challenge that, so long as parent and child handle conflict together.

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