This week I learned that three of my young grandchildren, including one extremely peaceful and amicable granddaughter aged 9, like to play with toy guns or play the “Best Ongoing Video Game of the Year” Fortnite. It is a game where players fight off Zombie-like creatures with a virtual weapon and have the freedom to create unique worlds, competitive arenas, set goals, and meet challenges.
Did You Play with Guns and/or Play War in Your Childhood?
I know when I was in my younger childhood (after the 1880s) that video games did not exist. But, I enjoyed playing with toy guns, water pistols, my toy soldiers, and playing pretend war games with friends. Next to my childhood home, there was a vacant lot with two six-foot deep holes spaced about 7 yards apart that somehow were dug there by some boys. Coincidentally, every weekend Phillip, Freddie, Tommy, Ed, Roger, Dave, and me as Junie would play war and use guns there. We would divide into two teams and plan strategies for attacking the other team, even at nighttime. We were seriously into this, and Phillip actually had a genuine metal army-surplus helmet, gas mask, genuine canteen and bandolier belt, a metal replica of a Colt 1911, rucksack, and a full camouflaged, fatigue uniform. I had a neat helmet and liner with my cap gun. By the way, Phillip is now a medical surgeon in Maryland, and three others are also doctors. None of us turned out to be crazed killers or violent psychopaths. But, most of us have learned how to be creative, set good goals for missions, and effectively solve problems. Now whether or not this is directly attributable to playing with guns in war games, I do not know. Did my Nerf gun battles with foam darts cause irreparable harm to my development? Maybe it helped some?
The Controversy Over Childhood Toy Guns Persists
Perhaps, you saw and read about the Great Britain nation-wide major controversy about Prince George, the four-year-old son of Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and his wife, Kate Middleton. Young Prince George was seen playing with a toy handgun on the sidelines of a Polo Match. What a serendipitous epiphany for Buckingham Palace folks and Her Majesty.
There are many examples of overreactions and emotionally-based, apocalyptic responses to toy guns and guns in general. Most of the overreactions and extreme actions are based on public safety and even politics, stating the need to stop terrorist behavior in preschoolers and the need to recognize potentially violent behavior and harmful tendencies in kids. Some say that all guns are bad and harmful, neglecting the fact that guns do not in themselves injure others, but rather the individual is the one who must use the gun for good or bad. Education is key!
Many studies have failed to find a clear connection between violent game play, toy guns, and belligerent behavior. Some have reported that the positive benefits outweigh the few negatives. However, today kids are being expelled from school, up to one year even, for some zero-tolerance school gun policies. There are many examples of ridiculous toy-gun punishments, like school suspension for a small, pastry-shaped gun to punishment for simply saying the word “gun.” See my “Top 10 Ridiculous Toy Gun Events” in my May 28, 2014 article on this website. The controversy over whether playing with toy guns in childhood leads to violent and aggressive adults has persisted for years.
To this author, in most cases, a long-term suspension or expulsion from school for playing with toy guns, or saying the word “gun,” or biting a pastry into the rough shape of a gun, or accidentally having a water pistol in a young child’s backpack is ludicrous and draconian punishment for an unintended action by an innocent third-grader about an object, a tool, often seen daily in children’s television programs, video games, and their routine exposures.
Some Contemporary Research Studies and Events
There was a thorough and intensive 2020 research study led by Dr. Aaron Drummond at Massey University in New Zealand that examined 28 previous global studies about the link between aggressive behavior and violent video games, in particular, using guns. Their primary conclusion was that video games with guns do not lead to violence or aggression in adults. Dr. Drummond said that “current research is unable to support the hypothesis that violent video games have a meaningful long-term predictive impact on youth aggression.” He said that the studies consistently find that the “long-term impacts of violent games on youth aggression are near zero.”
Research from the University of New South Wales supported the Drummond findings and added that even “people who frequently played violent video games were less distracted by violent images in other contexts.”
An overreaction to a 2020 British art exhibit of thought-provoking and creative, humorous artworks made of LEGO bricks is interesting. The “Brick by Brick” exhibition at the Harley Gallery features LEGO-inspired art and displays a brick gun made of LEGO bricks and other depictions of firearms. The Gun Control Network has attacked the inclusion of this artwork because they “glamorize or promote guns” and have no artistic value whatsoever. They even warn that there is a public safety risk for the community because the artwork guns “could be accessed by those wishing to use them to enable crime.”
Dr. Christopher Ferguson, a psychologist and professor at Stetson University in Florida has published several papers questioning the link between violent video games and aggression. His studies have consistently reported no connection between real-world violence and violent video games or media violence. He also wrote an article for “The Conversation,” pointing out that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that psychological studies “do not prove” exposure to violent video games causes minors to act aggressively. He reminds people that the American Psychological Association’s official policy says there is “insufficient research” on whether violent video-game use causes lethal violence. Ferguson argues the degree to which video game use increases aggression is so very small as to be essentially meaningless. After statistically controlling for several other factors, he says, the statistical meta-analysis usually reports an effect size of 0.08, which suggests that violent video games account for less than one percent of the variation in aggressive behavior among U.S. teens and pre-teens… if, in fact, there is a cause-and-effect relationship between game play and hostile actions. Dr. Ferguson says that it may instead be that the relationship between gaming with guns and aggression is a statistical artifact caused by lingering flaws in study design.
Most Research Concludes that Toy Guns and Video Games Are Not Associated with Adult Violence
Dr. Ferguson and researcher Dr. Sven Smith, Stetson Assistant Professor of Sociology in Florida, in 2018 examined extensive data collected in the United Kingdom about determining if playing video games or playing with toy guns predicts criminal behavior later in life. The results and their conclusion is that neither did. Ferguson said, “Our analysis adds to a growing body of literature that indicates shooter game play is not associated with violence or severe conduct problems among kids. If policy makers are serious about tackling issues of violence in society, they would be better suited to consider other issues that are more clearly linked to violence and conduct related outcomes,” said Ferguson.
Tips for Dealing with Guns for Young Children
- Recognize that children are very observant of adults and especially parents. So, be responsible as an adult and store and handle your guns safely to set an example. Prevent unauthorized access to firearms by children. Keep all firearms locked, unloaded, and stored separately from ammunition. Always handle guns safely and be a positive role model.
- When a gun is not being stored, keep it in your immediate possession and control at all times. Tell your children that they should always assume any gun is loaded.
- If you carry a gun in your car, make sure your vehicle has a lockable container, so you can safely store the gun when you exit your vehicle.
- Take the initiative as an adult to talk to children about guns REGULARLY and differentiate between toy guns and real guns. And positive versus negative play. Keep the language simple.
- Make it a part of your normal safety conversation for your children, like talking about drugs and alcohol.
- Start by showing them photos of various types of guns, so they can generally recognize them. Don’t let a child’s curiosity lead them to exploring and learning about guns on their own.
- Explain to your children how a gun they see on television or a video game is different from a gun in real life. A real gun can really hurt or kill someone.
- Monitor your child’s play and ensure it is a positive experience. When it becomes cruel and persistent abuse, rather than normal competitive and conquering kind of play, get involved. Good triumphing over evil is positive play.
- When your child has a playdate or visits a friend’s home, talk to the parents in a friendly manner and let them know your safety concern about guns. Find out if they have any guns in their home if they are locked securely, unloaded, and inaccessible to your child. You might say, “My child is pretty curious. Is there a gun or anything else dangerous he might get into?”
- Research has shown that 3 out of 4 children ages 5 to 14 know where firearms are hidden in the home. And 1 in 3 have handled a firearm in the home, many without a parent’s knowledge. So, do not assume that hiding your guns in your home is enough. Cowabunga, curiosity reigns. Store firearms safely and locked in the home.
- Be proactive and head off any possible accidents from a child’s exploring the unknown by themself. Tell them:
- If you see a gun, do not touch it… even if it looks like a toy.
- Tell an adult right away. Assure them that they will not get in trouble if they tell.
- Leave the area where the gun is located in an unsecured area, even if at a friend’s house.
- Tell them not to listen to a friend about whether or not a gun is unloaded or safe. Explain that others may not have the correct knowledge about real guns.
- Make certain they understand that any place where there is an unsupervised gun is a dangerous situation. And that it is never OK to handle a gun without a responsible adult there.
- Based on your own adult values, realistic beliefs, and safety concerns, set gun safety rules for your young children, e.g., “No pretending to shoot people, when not involved with playing a game with a toy gun.” “Do not point a gun at anyone.” And regularly remind children and grandparents of your safety rules.
TIP: Recognize that talking frequently to children about guns is a precaution, not a guarantee of safety. Sadly, many studies have found that even when children have been told to never touch a gun, they are likely to touch a firearm when an opportunity presents itself. And the consequences can be fatal. So, frequently speak to your children about gun safety. And enroll them in a gun safety course for children, which does not actually involve shooting a gun at an early age.
Excuse me while I try to find my old Star Wars Lightsaber!
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only, and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense, and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2021 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at ColBFF@gmail.com.