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Gun Control, Family Style PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jenni Person, BT Contributor   
November 2016

Childrearing gets real in an unsafe world

bigstock--139606403I grew up in one of those families in which we weren’t allowed to have Barbie dolls, a feminist issue; or guns, a pacifist issue. On the pacifist end, we also weren’t even allowed to have GI Joes, those little green Army toy soldiers, or any toys related to war -- not even water guns.

When my partner and I became parents, it was a very different world from our 1970s childhoods. It was post-Columbine and post-9/11, and the news was frequently reporting stories about kids finding their parents’ guns and accidentally killing their siblings and playmates. Suddenly the implications of guns and violence were of a greater magnitude relative to their presence and role in our childhoods. Although we’d already decided pre-firstborn that we’d carry on the no-gun policy of my childhood, the reasons were no longer just pacifist, but a broader brand of anti-violence across social and political contexts.

So when, on the sidelines of the fifth-grade basketball league practice recently, the dad of a prospective playdate asked my partner, “Do you own a gun?” we were not entirely surprised and kind of charmed.

In the early years of toddlerhood, we spoke a lot about the etiquette of parenting in the world of fear and violence. A new part of the parenting discourse has centered on guns and playdates. Is it polite to ask? But what exactly is “polite” when our kids’ lives are potentially at stake? We questioned whether we should allow our children to be unattended in any room at their cousin’s house, where we knew firearms were proudly collected -- how do you navigate that issue when family is involved?

One year things got pretty tense in our home when my partner and I were divided on the interpretation of our toy gun policy. Specifically, Nerf guns. They were all the rage among our son’s friends and he really wanted one. In a glorious example of non-unified parenting, he got one. And then another. And maybe even another.

I declared that these toys must never be used in front of me. And my opposition wasn’t only about consistent messaging; I was literally sickened by them. I was filled with anxiety at the sight of them, which to me suggested that guns and murder were being celebrated and glorified -- and rehearsed.

My partner argued that they looked nothing like real guns and they shot foam bullets. Furthermore, he suggested, there was something right about allowing our kid to flow with the social norm in his circle of friends. But the glorification of weaponry and shooting ultimately outweighed the divide, and we came back together over the removal of the toys from our home and a few family conversations addressing why that was happening. I assume his friends still have their Nerf guns, but my son doesn’t seem to miss his at all. We’re all back on the same weapon-free page.

As they’ve grown, more tragedies have unfolded, including Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook, just two examples of deadly shooting sprees involving campuses, movie theaters, churches, and other public spaces -- all resulting from guns being in the wrong hands. Additionally, these kids are coming of age during the revelation and acknowledgement, finally, of the ongoing and seemingly unending massacre of black men by law enforcement.

Local NPR affiliate WLRN has been doing an important series about gun violence in Miami. The series has given voice to the many individuals, families, and communities affected by shootings in Miami-Dade County. A search of “gun violence” on the WLRN.org website will provide a strong and meaningful picture of what we’re facing as a community.

According to one of those reports, more than 100 children and teenagers have been senselessly killed by guns in Miami-Dade County over the past three years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nationwide in 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries; 11,208 homicides; 21,175 suicides; 505 deaths due to the accidental/negligent discharge of a firearm; and 281 deaths due to firearms use with “undetermined intent.”

So how do we raise our children through this era? Sadly, we can’t guarantee their safety at all times. We can ask questions, as the father above did, about the environments they will visit without us. And we can fight for legislation that keeps our families safe. And we must.

We need to raise confident kids for so many reasons -- one reason, definitely, is so that they’re resistant to the glorification of gratuitous violence, and equipped to recognize and ask for mental health support when they need it. Inundated by this at every turn, from television and movies to video games and the news, we can’t allow them to become desensitized to it. And maybe we can reverse the trend and raise a generation of people who abhor and reduce violence, rather than glorify it.

 

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