I was a tomboy. When I was in grade school, in first or second grade, I didn’t play with the girls during recess; I played with the boys. The favorite game was war. Our playground edged a nice hilly area with foliage to provide camouflage. Because it was the early 60s and our fathers or uncles had fought in The Great War, we were fighting “The Japs.” (My father was actually too young to fight in World War II, but he did go to Korea.)
My loving, tolerant parents provided my arsenal, including various toy guns and even a plastic grenade. It’s amazing, really, that they were so forebearing, especially since it was the early ’60s–and they were Republicans.
In spite of my early war games and armaments, I grew up to be a pacifist. I know how to shoot a gun, a real one, but have never done so outside of a firing range. As I got older I saw the wrong in war, especially the war in Vietnam which briefly came into our living room each evening courtesy of Walter Cronkite. Playing with guns as a child was fun, but I wanted no part of the real guns and the real killing.
As a mother I’ve always allowed my boys to have toy guns. Really, I had no choice. When my oldest was still a toddler he picked up the letter L from his Sesame Street train set and started shooting with it. Bang, bang. About the same time I read a strip in my favorite comic, Doonesbury, where a boy about my son’s age, who was being raised by a radical feminist mother, picked up his rag doll and did the same thing. Bang, bang.
My boys were high school age and younger at the time of shootings at Columbine. The older ones had pretty much given up their weapons and moved on to football. My younger ones still played with them from time to time though. (Later my three youngest made their own bow and arrow sets from materials they found in the backyard, sharpening their arrows with their pocket knives–I allowed pocket knives after the age of 12 or 13.) As I listened to and read about those two boys, the ones who shot up their school, I wondered if their parents had allowed them to play with guns.
My guess would be they didn’t. Toy guns became a hot topic among mothers in the early to mid-80s and many mothers refused to let their boys have them, contending that this would encourage violence. But I wonder if it actually offers a healthy outlet instead.
What I’ve seen is that boys are naturally curious about guns and fighting. We can try to suppress that, but is it healthy? Will they find another way, maybe when they’re older, to express that curiosity? Will that other way be more destructive, as it was with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine? Very few boys go around shooting up their high schools. But there are other ways to be violent.
Boys need to express themselves and, yes, express their aggression. We can direct that, or we can suppress it. Suppression, though, is never a good long-term option.