The "Scourge" of Toy Guns


Toy_Guns_FWhen I was on a visit home recently, my 86-year-old mother asked that I bring down the old 8mm movie projector and films so we could watch them and decide if they were worth transferring to CDs. We spent quite a while watching movies that dated from 1956 through the middle 1960s.

Christmastime was the big opportunity for my dad to bring out the Bell & Howell and its retina-burning light bar, so we watched the family squint through several years of festive package opening. What held all the years together in my case was that every Christmas included at least one toy gun.

There was the Hubley Ric-O-Shay, and the Mattel Fanner .45 with the Greenie Stick-Em Caps. There was a Thompson and an M3 Grease gun, the latter with hand crank for a realistic sound. The Man From Uncle Gun combined a Walther P.38 with a buttstock, long barrel and scope. There was a foot-long scale likeness of a Winchester Model 94 I glued together like an airplane model. Finally there was that matchless day when I received my first real gun, a bolt-action .410 shotgun, and toys were no more.

All that was, I guess, preparation for almost 39 years in the gun industry. And, like much else that was shown in those flickering images, anathema to right-thinking members of today's academia.

Take, for example, Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of history and education at New York University. In two widely publicized recent incidents, police officers shot a Walmart shopper holding a BB gun and a 12-year-old boy with an airsoft pistol. Since both victims were black, they fit right into the current narrative of trigger-happy cops promiscuously killing black men, though perhaps they should also fit into a narrative of busybodies calling the police with insufficient or erroneous information.

Prof. Zimmerman didn't draw the conclusion that many SGN readers might have: that maybe cops need better training to spot the difference between real and toy guns. Nope, his solution is to get rid of toy guns. I will give him one small sliver of praise; he doesn't suggest government action to outlaw them; he wants shoppers to boycott stores that sell them.  That's good. If he wants to engage in a fair contest of ideas, not go running to the nanny state, we can handle that.

His explanation for my experiences, and many of yours, with toy guns is that they are artifacts of a less enlightened time:

"The guns would prevent boys from becoming 'sissies,' advocates said, amid worries that postwar suburban affluence--and overprotective mothers had eroded American masculinity. 'It is perfectly natural for young boys to be fascinated by guns,' wrote one approving physician. 'They represent an extension of power and strength.'"

Should've known it: homophobia!

"The fake guns would also steel American youth for the all-too-real struggle against Soviet Russia. 'Peace depends on all of us being rugged and ready,' declared the caption of a Saturday Evening Post cover, which showed young American boys dressed as pistol-toting cowboys."

And anti-Communism, too! A whole catalog of retrograde thinking here.

I don't doubt Prof. Zimmerman's line of argument will have its effect in urban areas: It's probably hard right now to find a toy gun in Berkeley, Calif., or Cambridge, Mass. But a quick look at the toy department shelves at the Farm & Fleet or Big R near me shows an impressive profusion of toy guns, most of them a lot more realistic than the ones I found under the tree. Little boys want toy guns just as much as I did more than 50 years ago, and that will never change, thank God.

What should change is that parents need to be judicious about where they let children handle toy guns, police need to be careful about distinguishing toy and real guns, and bystanders need to know what they are really seeing before calling 911 to report "man with a gun."

Merry Christmas!

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