Toy Guns and "No Big Deal" Guns Sold in Kid Stores - Impact on Gun Culture

 Blended screenshots of sales pages at Walmart's website, where this pink BB gun could have been sold to any prospective buyer, regardless of age (the age limit tool was broken). Walmart has since reversed its online sales policy, and now prohibits purchases of airsoft guns and toys.  Photo Credit: A Little Beacon Blog

Blended screenshots of sales pages at Walmart's website, where this pink BB gun could have been sold to any prospective buyer, regardless of age (the age limit tool was broken). Walmart has since reversed its online sales policy, and now prohibits purchases of airsoft guns and toys.
Photo Credit: A Little Beacon Blog

Growing up, you probably played Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers, or countless other kid games with guns. Your finger probably became a gun. Pew-pew! Your sister's magic wand probably became a gun. Heck, maybe a magic wand counts as a gun, when it hits someone with glitter.

Guns in our culture are as commonplace as staplers, or pens. You could even buy a bullet pen! I did for my dad last Christmas. I grew up making shotgun shells with him in our basement. He had the neatest shotgun shell-making thingy that clamped to the edge of the table. Toy guns for kids are sold in toy stores, in drug stores, and on any toy store website. How could you not want a Luke Skywalker laser gun? Or a Nerf gun blaster? And with YouTube videos featuring dads and their sons in all-out Nerf gun wars around the house, shooting people becomes very normal. 

Toy Guns In Beacon

Echo Beacon, open for more than 10 years and one of Beacon's most popular toy stores, doesn't carry toy guns. Owner Karen Donohue is a mother of a daughter, and made the decision years ago not to sell toy guns in her toy store. "I chose not to sell toy guns, as it just made me uncomfortable. I've been told by mothers of boys that they [the boys] will find any sort of stick or anything, and turn it into a gun despite Mom's efforts to say 'No,'" Karen recalls.

Echo is known for carrying educational toys, and Karen is big on nurturing the imagination. "I still feel this is a better use of the imagination than something that truly resembles a gun. I have, on occasion over the years, sold miniature squirt pistols, but nothing that could ever be remotely mistaken for a gun. In recent years I've been tempted to order them again, but they still give me pause."

Fatal Mistakes

Back in 2014, a 12 year old boy named Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a rookie police officer while he was playing near a gazebo at a recreation center in Cleveland, OH. The boy was holding a pellet gun and a person called 911 to report that a person who was "probably" a child was holding a gun that was "probably fake," according to this Washington Post article. The officer was not told about the "probably" parts, and approached the child, and shot. The child died in the snow. The officer was not fired at the time, but in May of 2017, was fired for not including details about past employment when he was first hired months before the shooting, according to that Washing Post article.

Walmart Pulls Airsoft BB Guns From Website

Gun culture makes getting guns easy and a normalized part of life. When I published this article after the Parkland, Florida tragedy, I included a screenshot of Walmart's website to show how easy it was to purchase a rifle online. A reader commented that the rifle shown in the example was a BB gun, and not, I suppose, an assault weapon. The implication, it seemed, was that buying a BB gun was no big deal. Not wanting to exacerbate the debate, I removed the picture to keep the focus on finding a solution. In that time, however, Walmart announced that it was pulling rifles like BB guns from their website (see the NPR report "Walmart Joins Dick's Sporting Goods In Tighter Limits On Gun Sales"). And in an instant, the page I had just visited to buy the pink rifle BB gun had vanished.

 

From the NPR Article:
Walmart is also removing items from its website "resembling assault-style rifles, including nonlethal airsoft guns and toys" — like the air gun Tamir Rice was playing with when he was shot by a Cleveland police officer who thought the 12-year-old was armed.

Companies aren't wanting to be associated with gun accidents or planned tragedies. So they are backing away and minimizing their liability. Any connection with tragedies is bad for business; the gun shop owner who sold the Parkland shooter one of his weapons felt compelled to hire a PR company to help issue statements. The issue of gun control has taken on a new dimension as companies get involved by limiting - or even ending altogether - their involvement.

The Mindset of Guns as Toys, Tools, and the Norm

 A page from the  Diary of a Wimpy Kid  series, where a swim meet starts with a pistol blast, scaring the Wimpy Kid.

A page from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, where a swim meet starts with a pistol blast, scaring the Wimpy Kid.

With guns being so prevalent in everyday lives, is it time to look at them differently? Would fresh perspective curb the ease with which they are used as a solution to a social problem? To a troubled, heartbroken, misunderstood teenager?

The picture above is taken from a page in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. In the book, the Wimpy Kid is forced to join a swim team. The first thing that scares him is the pistol shot to start the meet. He thinks it is a real gun, and hides under the water.

Why is a pistol used to start a swim meet? Could a whistle be used?

Why are toy pistols sold in a toy store? When a toy pistol is placed at 5-year-olds' eye level, where it hangs right next to something neutral like a slime-making kit or glow-in-the-dark bouncy ball, it conditions young minds that guns are toys.

The Not Discussed, Uncomfortable Notion of Gun Safety and Preparedness

If we consider CPR courses, Defensive Driving courses, and Fire Safety workshops to be normal and accepted practice, could Gun Safety training courses also become normal? To train prospective users that guns are really not toys, should be taken seriously, and how to use a gun in dangerous or threatening situations?

I asked Beacon's City Administrator, Anthony Ruggiero, if there had been any Active Shooter Training Workshops in Beacon. He responded that there have been in the past, when Beacon sponsored the County Citizens Preparedness Training courses, but he added that the sessions were not very well attended. He says another will be hosted in April.

Perhaps the mindset will shift, to one away from being a sitting duck, and one toward mental defense (think Bourne Identity...where are the exits? how to fight back? what everyday objects can become lifesaving tools?), planning, and rooting out the mindset of guns as toys.