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Toy guns

Boys & Their Toys

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

So with Christmas fast approaching, I am curious what your thoughts are on this issue. I recently learned that my mother-in-law decided to purchase toy guns for my two young sons as gifts this year. We are not talking neon-colored-nerf-type variety guns, but rather realistic-looking-wooden-shotgun-type toy guns. And when I say young sons, I mean they are really young – 1.5 and 2.5 years old actually. Honestly, before now I never paid much thought to toy guns and what my stance on the issue would be. I think that is because I thought I had some time before I had to worry about that and figured we’d cross that bridge when my boys became old enough to, oh I don’t know – ask for a toy gun! I am kind of sure that they have no idea what a gun is right now.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesMy gut reaction to learning that they are receiving these guns as a gift this month was that I don’t want them to have toy guns. At least not right now. My mother-in-law babysits my kids on a fairly regular basis, so I was thinking that when they get these guns I would suggest we keep them at her house. If they came home, I would likely hide them away or quietly dispose of them somehow. I am not sure if the idea to keep them at her house solves anything though because if I don’t want them to have a toy gun at this age, then what does it matter where they are when they are playing with them? When I mentioned this to my husband, he thought I was overreacting and that it was not such a big deal. They’re just kids and lots of kids have toy guns, in fact, he had toy guns as a kid. Not surprising considering that my mother-in-law is his mom! Ha!

So I think you let your boys play with lightsabers, am I right? Do they have toy guns too? Am I overreacting here? Is playing with guns/weapons just normal and expected when you have boys? Don’t I have the right to veto gifts if I feel they are inappropriate?

Soon-To-Be NRA Mom

Ahhhhh, this is such a sticky, intricate sort of mess, but one that I think a LOT of parents have struggled to sort out their feelings on the matter.

Once upon a time, I decreed (and my husband readily agreed) that there would be No Guns As Toys in our home. Call me naive, unrealistic or a big bleeding heart wussy-wuss person, but I don’t like guns. I don’t like the idea of guns as toys. I don’t like the sight of small children running around screaming BANG BANG YOU’RE DEAD AND FULL OF BLOODY HOLES HA HA HA.

And we stuck with that ideal for as long as possible, though we usually assess the toys on a case-by-case basis. (Like you said, I don’t get too worked up about those over-the-top Nerf water shooter toys that don’t really resemble a gun — though we don’t actually own anything like that currently, either.) We were lucky that our parents usually ask for gift ideas/suggestions ahead of time, so we were able to communicate our preference about weaponry-related play. One Christmas, when he was barely three, Noah received a laser gun toy from someone, and it was loud and annoying we simply said “thank you!” and left it in the package…and somehow, mysteriously “lost” the toy between the grandparents’ house and our own.

Other than small safety glowsticks, the boys actually don’t own “real” lightsabers — I know it’s hypocritical to split hairs in the guns vs. swords thing, but I kind of do, and yet…I also try to keep them away from ANY toy with the specific design purpose of fighting and whalloping your brother. They play rough enough already. I don’t need to ARM THEM to encourage dramatic play in that area, for sure.

But. Still. We used to remove the toy guns from Noah’s Star Wars Lego sets — in part for concerns over Ezra choking on them — but then we forgot to do that enough times that he has quite the collection and enjoys posing the minifigures with the “correct” weapon and such. And over the summer at camp he learned that hey! You don’t even NEED a toy gun! Just point your fingers *like this* or hold Mommy’s hairbrush *like that* and PEW PEW PEW.

So in that regard, yes, play guns and little boys are kind of inevitable, in part because not all parents will share your views on what’s appropriate, and in part because…well, Exhibit A: We Let Our Four-Year-Old Watch Star Wars, What Did We THINK Was Going To Happen Once He Saw How Awesome Han Solo Is? I still believe I have the right to vet their toys, though, ABSOLUTELY, and so do you. My kids routinely do not see certain contents of certain birthday party goodie bags, for example, and some past gifts have ended up returned or in the donate pile for a wide variety of reasons. I still have no intention of allowing our house to become as heavily armed as the OK Corrall, despite the handful of “eh, whatever” concessions we’ve made.

If you believe your boys are too young to play with realistic toy guns (and I would agree, given their ages), then you have every right to either tell your mother-in-law that actually, you would very much prefer that she hold those gifts in a closet for a couple years, for when your kids are older. Or to simply make the toys magically disappear after Christmas morning. (Even if she were to inquire about the whereabouts of the guns later, we all know that toys get lost, left at the playground, shuffled to the bottom of bin of unrelated items, or broken. Sorry!)

I agree that having her keep the guns at her house doesn’t solve a thing — you know they’ll be the first thing she brings out and they’ll quickly become something “special” that they don’t get at their own house. Like my kids at my parents’ house, where they recently discovered the Frankenfood-like existence of Non-Fat Non-Dairy Cool Whip. It’s annoying your husband doesn’t have your back on this, though perhaps you could just ask that the two of you set a compromise for when you think the toys would be a bit more age-appropriate, and that he communicate this to his mother. So she thinks you guys are unrealistic and overreacting and we-all-played-with-guns-and-turned-out-fine. (Actually, I NEVER did, and almost all of my neighborhood playmates were boys. I’m sure we pantomimed guns and arrows and used sticks as swords, and did just fine without the actual hardware.) It probably won’t be the last time she disagrees with your parenting choices, but you’re completely within your rights to make those choices and ask that others respect them…and not mock you too badly when you maybe end up compromising on those choices in a couple years.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Kate

    December 8, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I had a professor in law school who was just about as lefty liberal as you can possibly get, and then a little left of that. She had two young boys at the time and often told us about her efforts not to impose gender stereotypes on them (they played with dolls, never had violent toys, etc…). One day she came in half laughing but also kind of upset that her youngest — not quite 3 — had come to her, very apologetic and sincere: “Mommy, I’m really really sorry… but, I LOVE GUNS!!!” So, yeah, boys are boys, I guess. But realistic toy guns do really give me the creeps.

  • Elizabeth Hosto

    December 8, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    I was the NO guns variety of Mom when I had my boys and it didn’t take long for them to start using anything that even vaguely resembled a gun (sticks, legos, magnet toys) as a gun. That said, we don’t have any toy guns and my oldest knows that he will not get one until he understands what real guns actually do and that they are not toys. When he got one as a gift it promptly got “lost”. Sometimes I think it is genetic since I have no idea when or where he even saw a gun or how it is used but they still know. I do allow swords and my oldest even belongs to a youth swordfighting group, but keep in mind that I am not anti gun, just anti children with guns.

  • Clare

    December 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    I also don’t like the idea of my two boys having realistic guns.  Their Lego guys do have teeny guns, and for some reason I find them too cute to worry about.  Other than that, we don’t have any, and if we receive any, they go straight to the return/donate pile.  My boys do play with guns, though — they make them with their hands, cut them out of construction paper, build them out of lego bricks.  I don’t mind that so much because they are being creative and using their imaginations.  In some ways I prefer their pretend guns to their pretend swords, only because the swords require hand-to-hand combat that is more likely to make one of them cry.

  • deborah

    December 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    I ban toy guns, not because I think they will never get them from other people and not because I think it will keep my son from pretending to have a gun, but because I feel it’s important that he grow up hearing me say unequivocally “that’s not who we are as a family, that’s not what we value, and here’s why.” I feel there’s no better way than the short explanation when I take something like that away that goes something like this “mommy doesn’t want you to have a toy gun, because real guns hurt people and make them very sad. I don’t want you pretending to hurt people.”

  • silver

    December 8, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    My 3-year-old son doesn’t have any toy guns. He once received a water gun shaped like a pistol in a goody bag at a birthday party. He didn’t know what it was or what to do with it. I threw it away at some point.

    Yet he still will point his finger at things and make shooting noises.

    We just have a “don’t shoot at living things” rule. Shooting imaginary bad guys: okay. Shooting your sister: not okay.

  • rkmama

    December 8, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    My 5 year old daughter has learned the joys of the “hand” gun and the PEWPEWPEW sound effects from the Star Wars-playing boys at Kindergarten and has thoughtfully taught her 3 year old brother how to play. I’m an unabashed dirty hippie when it comes to guns but the ridiculousness of yelling “quit shooting your brother with your finger” is not lost on me. And I agree with @clare that at least they keep a respectable distance away from one another so no actual injury occurs. Unlike playing swords which quickly turns into “I’m sorry I whacked my brother on the head with the broom handle (or barbie or remote control or cat} that I was pretending to be a sword”.
    I’ve made it perfectly clear to my husband’s gun-loving family of hunters that gun replicas are not acceptable gifts for my kids. (Although I agree with Amy that the line gets blurry with the tiny guns that some with action figures.) They certainly don’t love me for this rule but my response is that they got to make the rules with their kids- I get to make them with mine.

  • Elizabeth

    December 8, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Having been in a similar situation, my suggestion is to make the safety argument.
    Our rule is no realistic looking toy guns. They have to look fake, as in neon green or someother unrealistic color. Guns made of wood are also permissible. This rule is fully supported by a NRA Gun loving friend of ours who offered to teach my son to shoot a real gun when my son is six years old. NRA guy is adamant that children should not have realistic looking toy guns since chilrdren already have a hard enough time distinguishing reality from fantasy.

  • L

    December 8, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    My grandmother did something very similar to my mother in the days of Mortal Kombat. My mother had a strict “no violent video games” rule, and communicated it to my grandmother (her mother-in-law) before Christmas. But lo and behold, a new version of Mortal Kombat showed up under the tree. And it did not take my brother long to acquire the “blood codes” from a helpful friend with more relaxed parents. So, my brother ended up with a violent video game, complete with animated blood and death scenes. My mom was not thrilled… I think you should stand up for yourself, and take the guns away if they show up under the tree. Don’t let yourself be undermined, or there may be worse and bloodier things under the tree in the future!

  • Lesley

    December 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I’m not sure toy guns give me much of a reaction either way, and I guess I should think about it, since my 16.5 month old may be showing interest in them here in the relatively near future. But what DOES give me a reaction is the idea that parents have to come up with these long, drawn-out explanations as to why their children can or cannot do something/play with something/etc. You are these boys’ mom, and if something rubs you the wrong way, even if you can’t quite put your finger on it, you have every right to tell your mother-in-law that you just don’t feel right about her giving your kids toy guns, and leave it at that. You don’t even need Amy or any of us to back you up. That is your instinct, you are their mom, and no guns, end of discussion.

  • Karen

    December 8, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    I have three boys, and we have not only Nerf guns, but Laser Tag guns. Actually, Laser Tag guns are brilliant. No bullets (Nerf guns shed their bullets like cat fur, and you have to keep buying the replacements, ugh), and your opponent can’t claim they didn’t get tagged.

    We also have swords–not wooden swords, but good sturdy foam swords (Google Knighthawk Armory, they’re seriously awesome). These don’t hurt when you’re swordfighting like those godforsaken plastic lightsabers. I don’t worry too much about toy guns. We have two wooden ‘rifles’ that we got at a Pioneer festival, the boys use them sometimes, but mostly go for the swords.

  • Jenn

    December 8, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Interesting comments (for real, no snark). I’m coming at this from the completely other side – in my family, guns are tools. We own many, for various purposes. We also hunt and my husband is a policeman, so guns are just part of the fabric of our lives. So to say the least I’m not freaked out in any way by my child having a play gun. When he is older he’ll learn to shoot – and respect – real guns.

    I do agree 110% with the above posters that realistic toy guns are a bad idea – they need to be plastic, colored, wood, etc. Just for safety’s sake.

    The bigger point, though, is that you and your husband need to get on the same page, and your folks on both sides need to respect your wishes. Even if they think you’re silly, you have the right to decide what your children can and can’t play with, and if they won’t respect it, you have the right to take that toy away and “disappear” it.

  • Diana

    December 8, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    When my boys were this age, I had to purge almost all of the wooden toys (even the larger wooden blocks) out of their toy collections – because they kept accidentally hitting each other with them, and unlike plastic – being hit with wooden toys hurts. So entirely aside from the whole “gun” issue – shotgun shaped pieces of wood sounds like a recipe for a whole lot of crying kids…
    I’ve given up on the gun thing per se – my son will shoot with anything from a snorkel to a banana. My rules are just no shooting at the dinner table or in the car.

  • AmyBeth

    December 8, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    As someone who generally loves all weapons, including guns, they do seem rather young. I’d be more worried about the fact that toy guns are often made out of metal and they’re likely to smack each other in the head with them. Yikes!

  • Bear

    December 8, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Here’s the thing about finger guns, hairbrush guns, banana guns, teensy minifig-hand molded “guns” &c., &c – never ever will your child pick up a finger or a hairbrush or a banana *thinking* it’s a toy and accidentally kill his brother with it. 

    My brother and I were not allowed toy guns as a child – in fact, we had squirt animals rather than gun-shaped squirt guns – and yet somehow we managed. My eleven-month-old will also not be getting any guns. 

  • Jeannie

    December 8, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    My son is almost five and has had his fascinations (off and on) with guns. We don’t own one (real or otherwise!) or anything like that, but of course he can “build” them with lego or whatever. Our approach has been to say we don’t like guns because they can hurt people, so he cannot even pretend to shoot people or animals, but if he wants to run around shooting imaginary bad guys with his fingers (or trees out the car window once. Sigh!) … well, so be it. It does seem to be a phase that almost all boys go through, so we try to guide it as much as we can without overtly being forbidding, which I don’t think helps.

  • Alison

    December 9, 2010 at 10:39 am

    I’d love to say that since we have a daughter we won’t have to deal with this issue, but HAHAA, I would be wrong!

    We own guns, (real ones, that is) and that is the precise reason we do not let our daughter ‘play’ with guns. We believe she should know guns are to be respected, and that they are not toys. 

    On the light saber vs.gun thing, Amy, I vote there is no hypocrisy. Unless you live in a galaxy far, far away, the chances of Noah and Ezra coming into contact with real light sabers is slim. A real gun, however, is a much larger possibility. Not all parents take the appropriate measures to ensure their children’s safety around guns, and kid’s brains are still figuring it all out…do we really want to confuse them with “THIS is a *toy* gun, but this thing that looks just like that other thing is REALLY REALLY dangerous”? 

  • Emily

    December 9, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Ugh, this issue makes me think of that case that’s in the news again – the 8 year old shooting himself in the head with the Uzi at a gun show. Apparently his father gave him the “little” submachine gun because it was small and therefore seemed like the right size for him. I agree with all of the commenters above that point out that it’s dangerous to allow kids to think of realistic-looking guns as toys.

  • Ann

    December 10, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Having one girl and two boys (7 and 4) at home, I’ve observed their strong attraction to weapons and play acting violence despite the restrictions we have on the kinds of things they play with and are exposed to. My older son loves Legos and the corresponding video games (Batman, Indy and Star Wars), which I don’t have a problem with because they’re so darn cute. However, even though the “people” are just blocks, the action and violence are real, and they play act all of this constantly. I struggle with the balance between letting them play out these actions, which they are so drawn to, while continuing an ongoing conversation that it’s not okay to hurt people for real. Any studies or advice on turning this undeniable fascination into healthy play?

  • The Maiden Meetallurgist

    December 10, 2010 at 9:53 am

    I’m expecting a boy in April, and I obsess over this. I know that one day, it’s probably inevitable, but I 100% for sure don’t want him “playing” with guns. To further complicate the issue my father is a hunter, and I fully support him taking my son hunting WHEN HE IS OLD ENOUGH. I am not anti-gun, in fact I’m pro gun and pro gun safety, I want him to learn where food comes from (animals, not the supermarket), I want him to ,earn to respect guns and gun safety, and I want him to have that bonding experience with his grandpa. But I don’t want him playing with fake guns and learning that guns are for violence. Feel free to laugh and call me naive.

  • Laura

    December 19, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    I don’t mind nerf or laser type toy guns, but don’t like the realistic looking ones (I don’t like my young sons ever thinking a real one is a toy – have had the talk with them about it, god forbid they come across one someday at a friends house)…
    On a side note from the toy gun debate, though I think that aggresssive type play in a young boy is normal. Boys have a natural amount of aggression that they need a safe outlet for. Here is a link for an interesting article on it:

  • Open Minded

    December 22, 2010 at 11:10 am

    I believe toy guns and swords are a learning opportunity for my children. I have two boys under age 6. I don’t ban them from playing with them at all. But, I do talk to them about it when they play. For instance… “Never point a gun at another person. You can take aim at targets like pillows, toys, etc. but guns are not for shooting people or pets — that’s cruel and mean.”  I also explain that if they ever come across a “gun” that doesn’t belong to them that they should not touch it and tell a parent or teacher right away. My philosophy is that weaponry is always going to be out there whether we try to prevent it or not. (Heck, the neighbor kids all have toy guns and some even have real hunting guns as well.) So, the best defense is to educate children on proper play and safety. I’d rather see them play with them in our home and talk to them about it then try to avoid the topic and toys all together. So far my technique has worked and they don’t point the toy guns at people or pets when playing. And because the toys aren’t forbidden in our house there isn’t that allure of wanting to play with something you can’t have. In fact, now they rarely play guns, because it isn’t as exciting as some of their other toys. 

  • Trista

    December 28, 2010 at 8:40 am

    I am married to a police officer. A GUN loving police officer so I knew guns would be an evitable part of our families life. and yet, we didn’t allow realistic toy guns in our home or for our son. (He’s 10 now) We’ve had nerf guns, brightly colored plastic water guns but any gun they recieved that looked real was promplty “lost”. The purpose was because I didn’t want my kids to look a gun that looks real and contemplate for even ONE second that it could be a toy. I want them to see a gun that looks real, back away and tell an adult. Which is what we have taught them from day one.(for the record…all guns in my home are always locked up. Its the first thing my husband does when he walks in the door)