Toy weapons too realistic, normalize violence

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Everyone has probably heard concerned parents wondering if first-person shooters or other kinds of fighting videogames will have a negative impact on their children. In popular games like “Halo” and “Modern Warfare,” the graphics are frighteningly realistic with extensively detailed scenery, fluid character movements and all of the gory details that accompany a character getting shot or blown up.

It’s one thing to leave all of the blood, gore and weaponry safely locked inside an Xbox console, but what about the toy guns, the Nerf shooter and the pellet guns that are available for even very young children?

I remember the brightly colored squirt guns of the ’90s and the little hand held Nerf toys that shot out foam discs. Now, the toy aisles of most stores have a vast array of fake weapons. Nerf guns have ammo belts, laser sights and tripods, and squirt guns have turned into these monstrous water cannons that actually sting when they hit skin. Move a couple of aisles down and pellet guns are available in a variety of shapes and sizes with containers of shiny, plastic, pea-sized projectiles.

I’ve been shot with a pellet gun as well; they do leave a mark and I’d say they’re definitely not a good idea for young children who don’t know how to aim away from the face, but my concern is how startlingly realistic these toy weapons look and what that means for children. Instead of a squirt gun looking like a ridiculous cartoon device only intended to shoot out water, many squirt guns or foam dart guns eerily mimic actual weapons.

To me, the message that these realistic toys are sending children is that it’s OK to shoot guns and OK to have guns, because children are allowed to have them and they’re just toys. What would happen, then, if a parent left their handgun or hunting rifle in reach of a child who then grabbed it and proceeded to shoot it because it resembled a toy? How are children supposed to understand their guns may only shoot out a foam dart with a suction cup while their parents’ guns hold actual ammunition?

Young children won’t realize that real guns hurt people and can even kill people; a child’s understanding of the fragility of life and finality of death is limited at best. I had almost no comprehension of death as a child and, as an adult, I still struggle to realize that we all will die.

The vast majority of parents wouldn’t admit that they condone violence, yet many of these same adults buy airsoft guns for their children for Christmas without considering the implications of that action. Most of these parents probably wouldn’t let their child go out and shoot a real gun, but they’re telling these children that it’s perfectly fine to shoot a fake gun with fake bullets because it’s not real.

That is a very complex message to give to children in an already violence-saturated society. And, regardless of the implications of realistic toy weapons on a child’s perceptions, another aspect regarding fake guns must be considered. Given the fact that concealed-carry is legal with the correct permit and reports of homicides flow in daily from the big cities, how are people supposed to immediately distinguish a child’s toy from the real thing?

Imagine a group of children playing in a front yard, screaming in make-believe terror as their best friend points a foam dart gun or a group of adolescents hiding behind bushes in the park, ducking and rolling and shooting each other with pellet guns. How would these scenes appear to an individual walking by, and what if that individual was carrying an actual gun and perceived the situation as dangerous?

In Brownsville, Texas, an eighth-grade student was fatally shot by police because he refused to put down what police believed to be a real gun, according to a January 4 ABC News article by Christina Ng. School officials called 911 to report there was a student with a gun. The school was put on lockdown, and when the student pointed the gun at the police officers, the officers fired shots, at least two of which hit and killed the student. Afterward, the “weapon” was identified as a harmless pellet gun.

The eighth-grader really had no business bringing the pellet gun to school and there was no reason why he should have pointed it at the police officers, but if the pellet gun didn’t so closely resemble an actual weapon, the officers probably wouldn’t have fired. If the pellet gun was, say, lime green and didn’t have the same shape and size as the average handgun, the incident would have been a simple transgression of school rules.

In May 2011, a 15-year-old student at a school in New York brought a “realistic-looking toy Uzi and promised to ‘start shooting,'” according to a May 27, 2011 NY Daily News article by Rocco Parascandola and Ben Chapman. The teenager was arrested, but a girl who was present for the incident said she still doesn’t “feel safe at school,” according to the article. Even though no physical harm was done, consider the effects of this student’s actions; his classmates no longer feel safe at school, all because he pulled out a fake gun and made threats. This is another case that would have been much more of a non-issue if the toy gun did not so closely mimic the real thing.

Realistic toy weapons just aren’t healthy for children or for society. Introducing toys to young children that mimic their deadly counterparts only ingrains the use of violence and guns and normalizes their use. Children are bound to want to send projectiles at one another, but if there have to be any toy weapons, why do they have to look like weapons? Make them goofy shapes and ridiculous colors and maybe the grip of militarization will ever-so-slightly lessen.

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