Advice Columnist Warns Against Kids Playing With Squirt Guns

(Carlos Ortiz/Democrat & Chronicle via AP)

Warning: reading both a question to and the response from a New York Times advice columnist may cause headaches, heartburn, and vision problems from rolling your eyeballs over the inanity on display. For those of you with strong constitutions, however, read ahead. First, the question:

My husband and I disagree about whether toy guns are appropriate for our kids and under what circumstances they may be used. Last weekend, our two young sons were given water guns as gifts, which they quickly put to use outdoors. They played with the toy guns as if they were real — shouting “Bang!” when they fired them and collapsing onto the ground when they were hit. I’m afraid that even toy guns send a message of insensitivity to our neighbors during this time of persistent mass shootings. My husband disagrees, and the boys continue to use the guns outdoors. Am I overreacting?

Note that mom’s problem here isn’t necessarily with her kids getting the wrong message by playing with squirt guns. No, she’s worried what the neighbors might think.

My advice? Stop worrying and let your kids be kids. When it gets warmer put on your bathing suit, grab some a squirt gun of your own (or, if you’re too squeamish for that, some water balloons), and go out and have a squirt gun fight with your children. Make some memories. Share some laughs. If the neighbors are annoyed by the sounds of your family’s joy and merriment, maybe it’s time to talk to a realtor.

Of course, as you might imagine, columnist Phillip Galanes has a very different point of view.

I respect your desire to be a good neighbor. But in your quest, you seem to have skipped over the bigger question here: Should your sons be playing with toy guns at all? You may not have bought them — and your husband may find them harmless — but that doesn’t settle the matter.

Personally, I don’t think anyone should become desensitized to the act of pointing a gun at another person (even if the gun is made of chocolate). Life and limb are precious! I also acknowledge, though, that as a young boy my brother turned practically any item he picked up — pencils, carrots, action figures — into a make-believe gun, and nothing my parents said stopped him. Play is complicated.

These kids aren’t “pointing a gun at another person.” They’re playing with water pistols. If you’re raising kids that can’t tell the difference between a supersoaker and an actual firearm, you’ve done something horribly, horribly wrong.

I’m old enough to have grown up at the tail end of the age of cap guns, and I have fond memories of playing cops and robbers with my buddies in the suburban Oklahoma City neighborhood where I grew up. I’m not aware of any of us turning into hardened criminals as adults, and I know that my summer soak gun fights and play with cap guns didn’t desensitize me to the act of pointing a gun at another person. In fact, as a gun owner that’s the last thing I want to do, and something that would only come into play if my life or the life of another person was threatened.

Look, if you’re really worried that your kid is going to grow up with a warped idea about firearms, the best thing you could do would be to put them into a 4H shooting sports league or even take them to an outdoor range with a single-shot .22 rifle. Teach them about the destructive power of a real firearm, and why they’re not toys. Show them the difference between a squirt gun and an actual gun. Educate them on the four rules of gun safety. If you don’t have the knowledge yourself, find a local firearms instructor, junior competitive shooting league, or even the Boy Scouts.

Of course, you may end up raising someone who prefers to shoot competitively instead of having squirt gun fights with their friends, in which case I wish you the best of luck in finding an ammo sponsor. At the very least least your kids will know how to be safe and responsible around firearms, and that’s a good thing… unlike the truly terrible advice from the New York Times.