“YOU COULD HAVE KILLED HER!”
With a red face and bulging eyes, Mrs. Lacey screeched these words at her five year old son, while blistering his backside with her hand. I’m usually not one for spanking, but in this case, it was probably warranted. After all, Ryan had just loaded his father’s pistol and shot it a few inches from where I was sitting cross legged on the floor.
We had been playing innocently enough- what game I don’t really remember. Whatever it was, it must not have been the most exciting form of entertainment, because Ryan decided he should show me his dad’s pistol. He ran to his parents’ bedroom to retrieve it while I sat anxiously on the floor. I knew I wasn’t supposed to play with guns, but I had also never seen a gun. My curiosity was piqued.
Ryan returned and showed me the pistol. In all honesty, I don’t know that it was a pistol. I remember that it had a metal barrel and a wooden handle and looked huge in his tiny hands. He opened the compartment for the bullets, and placed something inside (I know now it was a blank). He tried to reopen it, but could not get it to unhinge again. Ryan began to panic. I don’t know if he meant to shoot the gun to try to empty it, or if his hand simply slipped. I just remember there was a loud noise and a black spot on the carpet a few inches in front of my knees.
Mrs. Lacey raced into the room, I assume fearing the worst. Once she saw we were both unharmed, she took to beating Ryan’s bottom and making loud declarations about what his father would do when he returned from work. Ryan began sobbing. As Mrs. Lacey went to hide the pistol, Ryan sprinted to the bathroom. He ran a washcloth under the faucet, and returned to the living room to try to sop the blackened spot from the carpet. That’s how young we were- we believed the spot to be a stain. We could simply clean up the evidence and Dad would never be the wiser. Mrs. Lacey advised me to go home, and I quietly left and walked down the street to my house.
I was reminded of this story yesterday because Liam has taken to pretending to shoot guns.
How does he even know what a gun is? We don’t watch movies with guns or read books with pictures of guns. He doesn’t own any toy guns. We don’t talk about guns, and I didn’t think his friends did either. He is only three years old after all. Why would he know what a gun is?
I did not grow up with guns in the house. My mother forbid it. When Ben and I decided to have children, we discussed what we should do with his guns. Ben is not a hunter, but he had several guns for target shooting. Since I am unfamiliar with guns, I left it up to Ben to decide the best way to handle it. He opted to put his guns in his friend’s safe, since he only uses them sporadically.
Recently, Liam received a bag of action figures from a friend. I looked inside the bag and noticed there were a couple of Storm Troopers holding guns, but didn’t bother to take them out. I originally handed out the action figures as rewards for cleaning up his toys or taking a nap. I simply didn’t choose to give him the Storm Troopers, opting for superheroes instead.
I got lazy. I placed the bag on a shelf and forgot about it’s contents. One day, Liam asked if he could get down some more men to put in his toy bus. I said sure. To my surprise, he retrieved the Storm Trooper and pretended to shoot me.
“Shoot! Shoot! I’m shooting you!”
I tried to play it off.
“That’s a Storm Trooper. He’s holding a….er….laser pointer.” Laser pointer? Is this trooper some kind of nerd going to Power Point him to death?
“No, it’s a gun. I’m shooting you.”
“Oh. What does shooting do?”
“I’m shooting all the dead animals.”
What the fuck? Shooting dead animals? I tried to remain calm, but I’m freaking out a little bit. What is happening to my little boy? He went from Curious George to Big Buck Hunter in about a millisecond.
The next day, I volunteered at Liam’s school, which pretty much means doing busy work so the teacher can focus on the kids. I was attaching bats to strings when I overheard Liam playing pirate ships with another boy. The boy yells “Shoot! Shoot! I’m getting you.” Ahhh, now I know where he is picking it up.
The teacher went over to see what was going on. She did not stop them from shooting, but steered the game in a more positive direction, talking about what creatures are lurking in the sea and whose boat was bigger. That evening, Liam played with his Tinker Toys. Whew, I thought, back to a wholesome building activity. What did he make? A gun.
I began to ponder how to handle this curiosity. When I was a kid, it was common to play Army or other gun-related games. Playing War with the neighbor kids was one of my favorite afternoon pastimes. I didn’t grow up to be a irresponsible gun-toting savage. But I was also at least marginally older, and I knew what guns did.
Does Liam know what guns do? Should I explain it to him, or has he already picked it up on the playground? I wish I had some snappy ending for this one, but I really have no idea how to handle this one. The best I can come up with is keep our house safe, be open when he questions, and ask his teacher for advice. But as both my stories illustrate, I can only protect him so much. What does he learn when he is out of my sight? How can I keep him safe when he is not at home?