I need to get some blood pellets...
My son has guns that he keeps strapped to the ends of his wrists. He sticks out his index, pops up his thumb, then curls in the other three fingers to create the universal sign for firearm. He shouts out his shots like BANG! BANG BANG BANG! BANG! Sometimes it’s out of anger, the barrel of his gauge aimed at the object of his ire, be it baby brother, Mom, me, some stranger who gave him a funny look, not funny ha-ha, but funny BANG BANG! Other times he does it to amuse himself. He blasts with a laugh, giggling with every trigger pull.
I know he didn’t pick this up at home. That may sound defensive, but it’s not intended as a defense of our parenting, just a statement of fact about how things are around here. We don’t keep guns under this roof. The Ash and I don’t play-shoot each other. Aside from a spacey looking bubble blower, the boys have no toy guns. And I never quite got the hang of that two pistols greeting thing that some guys are so good at. Maybe he picked it up at school, I don’t know. And you know, so what if he did? Now he’s the one passing it on to other kids. To be honest, I have a hard time getting myself too worked up about it. I’m not even sure that he “picked it up” anywhere. I think back on my own experience of being a boy, of boys I was friends with, and the boys I taught for all those summers, and gunplay was always present in one form or another. Flip through a picture album of me as a kid and you’ll see picture after picture of me carrying toy rifles, pistols, machine guns, uzis, laser blasters. I might not have been wearing anything more than tighty-whiteys and a cowboy hat, but I was strapped with my gat.
I’m not saying all this as some sort of “boys will be boys” defense, or to suggest that it’s healthy in some way. All I’m saying is that It Is. Gunplay is there, er, here, no matter how the wife and I may feel about the reality of guns. I don’t remember what kind of thoughts went through my head back when I was a kid going around everywhere armed. Maybe they weren’t the kind of thoughts that made their way up to the surface enough to be articulated so as to be burned into memory. But what I do remember is that the fascination with guns among boys (probably some girls too) bordered on near universal. And when you think about it, why not? Guns represent instant power, something that most kids are pretty short on. Power to do what you want, power to move obstacles out of your way, power to make the world go your way. And yes, that power comes from the ability to dole out death, but I wonder if maybe that understanding dawns a bit later on. Or hey, maybe these kids know exactly what they’re imagining, but they know they’re just imagining it. Maybe my son knows perfectly well that he’s pretending to install the contents of his clip in dad’s chest, but that it’s just pretend. Chill out old people! We’re only play killing here! Jeez!
I have faith that this kind of thing works itself out in the long run, provided we do our jobs as parents. There are a lot of important lessons to be taught, and sometimes you have to get creative with how you instill those lessons. So I’m going to get some blood pellets, and, along with a bit of inspiration from Arrested Development, I'm going to set up a little lesson about the reality of what guns can do. Next time we're sitting at the dinner table and Henry points his little hand cannons at me and BANG BANG BANG!s away, I’m going to drop my silverware and clutch my chest, smashing those pellets open so that bright red blood runs down my shirt. I'll scream “MY GOD! YOU’VE SHOT ME!” I’ll have a pellet ready in my mouth to bite into for some instant internal bleeding. I’ll fall to the floor, smearing blood all over the white tile, clutching at the sucking chest wound out of which my life force is leaking. I’ll ask over and over again “Why, Son? Why?” I’ll get the wife in on the act too. She’ll kneel down by my dying form and cry out to the heavens, “No God, please don’t take him from us! My son knows not what he does! We tried to tell him not to shoot people but he wouldn’t listen and now he’s shot his father and there will be no one to take care of us and we’ll have to live on the streets and I’ll have to sell my body just for a loaf of bread, which I will in turn trade for crack to feed the drug habit that I will now inevitably pick up!”
And then, I’ll sit up and look my son in the eye and tell him, with all the gravitas I can muster, “And that’s why you never pretend to shoot people!”
Of course, the little punk may be laughing his ass off.