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We have yet to reach Memorial Day, but the fun police have already set their sights on at least one cherished summer childhood activity. In an article for PopSugar.com, titled, “Why Kids Should Never Play With Water Guns. Period,” author Lauren Levy lectures the nation’s parents on the hidden menace of squirt guns.
According to Levy, no child should be permitted to use a water gun under any circumstances. That a particular squirt gun might bear no resemblance whatsoever to a real firearm is of no concern to Levy, who contends, “Even if they’re colorful and super cool, kids shouldn’t be playing with water guns because it normalizes the real thing.”
Fully embracing the role of a humorless scold, Levy earnestly warns readers, “There are some children who will never smile again — all because someone picked up a gun. At the same time, we have little ones playing and laughing over the very thing that is killing other kids. It just isn’t right.”
One could reasonably mistake Levy’s article for satire, were it not for the fact that recent decades have witnessed a wide-ranging effort to stamp out the fictional toy gun hazard. There have been toy-gun turn-ins modeled off of gun “buy-backs,” local bans on the sale of toy guns that have crippled small business owners with outlandish fines, and too many zero-tolerance school suspensions to count.
Levy makes several assertions about how toy guns are detrimental to children but offers no evidence to support her claims. Levy’s expertise on the matter appears limited to a combination of her feelings and a childhood where her mother insisted on a toy gun-free home.
Levy’s lack of evidence is revealing. In an interview with WebMd.com clinical psychologist and best-selling author Michael G. Thompson, Ph.D. made clear, “Everyone has an informal causation theory that playing with guns leads to the use of guns in adulthood,” but that, “There’s no scientific evidence suggesting that playing war games in childhood leads to real-life aggression.” In recent years, the work of Thompson and other researchers has led to a bevy of articles in typically anti-gunpublications that have sought to calm parents’ fears about aggressive play and toy firearms.
Further, the type of ban Levy encourages has second order consequences. The Centers for Disease Control has made clear that physical activity and play are vital to a child’s healthy development, and research indicates that outdoor play is particularly beneficial. In surveying the available research on outdoor play, an article published in the journal Health & Place noted “encouragement of outdoor play and fostering an environment of movement among children improves the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive health of children…” Sadly, other research has found that today’s children are not getting enough outdoor playtime. Fun, wholesome physical activities like a summertime squirt gun battle should be embraced as an exciting way to get kids up off the couch and away from their screens.
Levy’s broadside on summer fun even puts her at odds with some of the most anti-gun politicians. NRA has had its differences with former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden, as both are unabashed gun control supporters. However, on the matter of water guns, we have found common ground.
Super Soaker wars were an annual fixture at the former vice president’s summer parties at the Naval Observatory, where Biden was often pictured engaged in battle with young attendees. In 2012, the White House tweeted a picture of Obama wielding a squirt gun while taking fire from what appears to be one of his daughters.
At one point in her piece Levy writes, “as much as we want to teach our kids about gun control and safety, we contradict ourselves the second we allow them to run around with toy versions to shoot their friends.”
Here Levy betrays her motives. Her piece isn’t about children mistaking real guns for toy guns, or that squirt guns will cause children to fail to appreciate the dangerousness of real firearms. Levy’s attack on water guns is about instilling an anti-gun political orthodoxy in America’s youth, lest a favorable childhood experience with a toy cause anyone to develop anything less than an unthinking animosity towards firearms.
Levy’s unsupported theories about the hazards of squirt guns should earn her derision from all but the most zealous adherents to the cult of gun control. Wise parents will look to the research on, and prevalence of, toy gun play and dismiss such overwrought attempts to curtail normal and healthy childhood behavior.