I’m at the park with my boys and a good friend’s son, Samwise. Samwise is a code name, because privacy is always my first priority (for other people’s kids, anyway). That, and wouldn’t be cool to have the name Samwise? It’s a gorgeous Florida “winter” afternoon with a warm sun and a cool breeze, and the playground is filled to the gills with kids, moms, dads, babysitters, and even a few grandparents. Dylan, Riley, and at least a dozen other children are chasing squirrels, and Samwise and I are sitting on a bench. I’m on Facebook (surprise!) and Samwise is stuffing fists full of Quack’n Bites in his mouth when out of nowhere, Samwise says, “Hey, that guy has a gun.”
I immediately have three thoughts:
(1) Samwise is three years old. He’s just as likely to say, “That guy has a gun,” as he is to say, “A unicorn ate my nose.”
(2) In the post-Newtown (Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech) world in which we live, it’s not wise to say something like this in a busy public place (in the same way it’s not a good idea to talk about bombs at the airport).
(3) F–k, is there a guy at the park with a gun?
I look up in a panic to find a young boy – about nine or 10 years old – with an assault rifle of the brightly colored, plastic, Nerf variety. It’s a toy.
Ask my boys if I like toy guns, shoots, shooters, or whatever the heck you want to call them (Nerf calls them blasters), and they both know the answer. No. I can’t help it that occasionally we come home from the toy store with a Transformer or Star Wars character with an attachable – and thankfully, easily lost – weapon. But actual guns? Forget about it. I can’t control a lot in this world, but I can control this.
The toy rifle at the park is as attractive to the kids (the boys, especially) as a candy-filled piñata. Dylan keeps his distance. (Good boy.) Riley picks it up and examines it while the gun’s owner is on the swing, but when I ask him to put it down, he complies and says, “We don’t like shoots, right, Mommy?” Right. “Shoots hurt people.” Right. (Good boy.)
On an idyllic afternoon such as this, there are “common property” park toys everywhere, including sidewalk chalk, a football, a soccer ball, and a remote control monster truck. Everyone plays with everything, and it occurs to me that I might be the only Mama who thinks the big gun is wildly inappropriate. Fortunately, I’m wrong. Soon, I hear a Mama say, “Isaac, put it down. I don’t like that.” And then another. And another.
At one point, the young boy points his gun to no one in particular and pulls the trigger causing a “pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa” sound. He does this two or three more times before stopping. I cringe.
When the sun begins to set, we head home for dinner and a bath, but I can’t get the image or the sound of the gun at the park out of my head. I think about Gabby Giffords, the children in Newtown, and the teachers who tried to protect them. I think about wise Uncle Ben who tells Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I think about Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Smokey the Bear, and how it’s just as important to have a shift of values in our homes as it is in Washington, D.C. I think about how my disdain for guns has thankfully rubbed off on my kids. (If only my love of kale had the same effect!) I think about how in one small park in one small town in one county in the state of Florida in the United States of America, I was one of many who were uncomfortable with the presence of a toy gun with semiautomatic sound effects. I think about how beautiful it is to be a living, breathing cog in the wondrous phenomenon known as change.
Editor’s note: It took 679 words for me to express my thoughts on guns. At yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, it took Gabby Giffords just 71:
“Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”
I don’t like guns. It’s okay if you do, but I don’t. If you want to learn about or engage in a movement to enact common-sense gun laws in our country, check out One Million Moms 4 Gun Control. (Or don’t. I won’t be upset. Promise.)