We’ve all played these games. Call it “cops and robbers.” In my childhood, as politically incorrect as it may be now, we included “cowboys and indians” in our role play. During a more romantic part of my childhood, it might have been “brave prince and princess-kidnapper.” A more fantastical period would see us playing “Star Trek.” We grow up seeing good guys beating bad guys, and we role play the same. The good guys use weapons — fists, swords, light sabers, phasers … guns. Our guns were usually hand guns rather than AK-47s, and they were fashioned from things like fingers, cardboard, plastics, and wood. They were symbolic, or iconic, or realistic.
Today, in many places, children are being punished for this kind of role-play. Punished … not taught.
Two 6-year-old boys from Maryland were suspended from their school for making gun gestures during a harmless game of pretend, leaving parents outraged.
Officials at a Talbot County Elementary School disciplined the boys after they were playing a game of cops and robbers according to Baltimore station WJZ-TV. It was the second such incident in the state in recent weeks.
Let’s call it “Sandy Hook Overreaction” for now.
I’d like to get this out here, in the open, now: I believe in gun control legislation. I am a bad, bad libertarian to believe in this, but given reality, and given the vast number of humans crowding our planet and the vast number of the disaffected, the psychotic, the troubled, the traumatized that come along with crowding, unemployment, fear mongering, financial distress, and the ringing tones of celebrity pundits making extremist points on public airways, I strongly believe in putting controls into place. Cars are dangerous tools. We wisely legislate the control of the use of such things. Firearms are even more dangerous and have the added bonus of having been created for the purpose of killing. As we mandate testing and registration of the use of vehicles, it’s only smart to mandate the testing and registration for the possession and use of firearms. It should be difficult for criminals and psychotic people to get a hold of a firearm. It will never be impossible — that’s a pipe dream. But it should be difficult. Any given firearm should be traceable to someone who should be held responsible in some fashion — who should have to prove that he or she did not cause the misuse of the weapon.
That out of the way, I will relate a true story that concerns students at a middle school in the 1990s. The facts in the story are real. The situation has been slightly modified to avoid identifying any of the individuals. A middle school girl waits for the bus to take her home. She is on school property. She is alone, but for a middle school boy who lurks nearby. He approaches her, taking her by surprise, and brandishes a black gun-shaped object. She does not react calmly. She believes it to be an actual handgun, and that he is threatening her. She tells the school authorities. They respond by calling the boy into the office. He shows them the wooden object he crafted in woodshop that day, and painted black to make it resemble a handgun and tells them he was just trying to show a pretty girl the cool thing he had made. They call the girl into the office to show her she had had no reason to fear. They call her in while the boy is still there. They let the boy go. Following that, every day that she went to school, she was confronted by that boy, or others, and mocked, harassed, bullied for having been afraid of a fake gun and for having tattled on the boy.
The girl, now an adult, looks back on that incident as one of bullying, and is glad that it served to make her a bit tougher, a bit stronger. To this day, too, she feels that that the school reacted inappropriately — they ought to have admonished the boy for inappropriate behavior. She does not feel they should have done much more than make him serve a bit of time after school. She felt his behavior — holding the gun on her in a threatening fashion — was a correctable issue. It had nothing to do with the use of a gun-like object, but more that he felt it was fun to threaten a lone girl. She doesn’t know if he ever learned any better way to behave. She hopes so.
I am in agreement with that woman. A child who threatens another child, especially as a joke, needs to be held responsible in some appropriate fashion. They should be taught not to use force or threats on innocent humans. Force is appropriate to protect yourself, or to protect others. It is not a joking matter.
A child who, with the consent of other children, indulges in fantasy play with roles representing heroes and bad guys, is not threatening anyone. Everyone is playing a role. The good guys usually win. The children learn a lot from that. The “weapons” they choose to employ for that fantasy play are irrelevant, except as they pertain to the game chosen. It’s more about overcoming wrongdoing than it is about the method.
Children who use harmless models would be better served to be actively taught the appropriate use and care of their chosen weapons — be they light sabers or fingers forming “guns.” We do not aim guns at people unless we intend to kill them. Do you want to kill another human being? Why? What if he was really Jean Valjean and wasn’t really a robber, but a hungry man trying to find food for his sick nephew? Would you still want to kill him? How about you simply arrest him and take him to jail, and let the courts determine how to take care of his crime? We could leverage their fantasy play to teach whatever lesson we wished for them to learn, and they could still use their fake guns.
Provided, of course, their fingers were properly registered and licensed, and they were fully trained in the use and care of their fingers.