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Thursday, June 28, 2007

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The Do Not Cross Line

I mentioned that my eldest child attended cub scout day camp a couple of weeks ago. He has been scouting for two years, during which time I have been working on my badges in

It has been character building for both of us.*

It was actually my idea to enroll him in scouts in the first place. As is often the case, I was seeking closure for unfinished business from my own childhood: in this instance, abandoning Brownies after two weeks (I just wanted the cute uniform), reneging on my duty to God, Queen and Country.

It turns out my son is not feckless at all like that. Here we are, moving up to Bear rank in the fall, and the full immersion experience of day camp did not one thing to dampen his enthusiasm for scouting. On the contrary, day camp has probably secured his devotion to scouting through his eighteenth birthday, on which date I am going to put him on a plane to my mother's home in Canada and confiscate his U.S. passport for four years. He doesn't earn it back until he has grown his hair out, pierced his tongue, and learned to snowboard.

His soul was bought with archery and b.b. guns. Real arrows. Real guns.

To help you appreciate how thrilling this was for my son, you need to understand that we prohibit any kind of gunplay in our home. Not even water pistols are allowed (although the boys do have water shooters that do not imitate handguns or automatic weapons; "ray-gun" styling is acceptable). I do not prevent my children from playing with their friends' toy guns when they are visiting in someone else's home, but I am very comfortable explaining that it is not something we do in ours. My kids are the gunplay equivalent of social smokers.

Our family weapons policy has evolved over the years. When my firstborn was a baby, and I was still relatively new to the country, I was fanatical. Not only did we not permit toy guns; we didn't even talk about them. A gun was that-which-cannot-be-named. One day, when my son was two, he built an L-shape with some Legos and pointed it at me. I squinted at him.

"What's that?"

"It's a pffffer," he said. He didn't know the word for gun.

I promptly confiscated it.

"No pffffing," I said, firmly.

As he grew older, and our social network began to widen, it began to dawn on me that denial was probably neither a realistic or effective approach. We live in America, in the South. Parents who don't want their children to have sex, or smoke cigarettes or use drugs and alcohol, need to talk to their kids about sex, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. I needed to talk to mine about guns. Early, and often.

Let me back up a bit and explain that I am not against guns, per se. And when I say guns here, I am referring to handguns and automatic weapons. Guns designed for killing and wounding humans. I have nothing at all against skillful and responsible hunting of animals for food. My Canadian brother-in-law is a hunter, and my six-year-old nephew accompanies him during rabbit season. I have no more problem with this than I do with taking my own sons fishing. We only keep what we eat, and it is an occasion for them to experience and participate consciously in the natural environment. The fish is a hunter also.

Understand that I come from a place that is mainly rural. It's true I have got zero tolerance for the gun lobby, but you do not want to get me started on the anti-hunting movement, either. I wish all the zealots would just cancel each other out and let the rest of us go along being reasonable. The food chain is a circle, not a hierarchy. My father's ashes are part of the riverbed that hatches the trout his grandson catches. And those trout descended from the ones my father brought to our table.

I think my attitude toward guns is representative of the majority in Canada, and this is one of those areas where I still identify with being Canadian. Canada is not a country borne of revolution (it was more by committee, which bequeaths its own issues, but that's for another day). The beloved Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution sounds nuts eccentric to most of us. Like some archaic law from the 18th century that hasn't made it off the books yet. The entrenchment of bearing of arms as a right, not a privilege, seems about as relevant as prohibitions against witchcraft.

If only it were as harmless.

In the past week, two fatal shootings of children by adults took place in this state. The first killing was of a twelve year old boy in West Memphis by a police officer. The child was running away with a toy gun that the police took to be real. The second killing was of a nine year old boy by a man whose house he and some other children had been throwing rocks at.

This is why we do not confuse guns with play in my home. It is not so much that I worry my children will confuse the two, but because the society we live in is, itself, confused. In a country where an armed police officer could find it plausible that a twelve year old child was also armed and dangerous, in a country where unreasonable people have guns within arms reach, in a country where it is necessary to post "no weapons" signs on elementary schools and public libraries, I feel it is simply not appropriate. I keep toy guns out of my children's hands in protest as much as from a desire to teach safety and responsibility.

It's largely about the context. In in another society, in another time, I might view plastic pistols and M-16s the same way I look at plastic swords: an acceptable prop for a child's warrior play. Not in this present one. And as much as I respect responsible hunters, and soldiers who fight for a just cause, and police who really protect, I would happily ban real guns as well as the toy ones, if it would guarantee that another bullet would never enter a child's body, ever again.

However, it wouldn't and it won't. My children have to grow up in the world as it is, not as I wish it would be. So I have drawn and redrawn my line. I never thought, when my son was two years old, that in six years, I would stand behind him on a shooting range, listening to a grown man in shorts and knee socks barking out orders like it was a private militia camp in Utah. I can't say I was entirely comfortable with it (though the shorts and knee socks were arguably the most disturbing aspect). But I didn't feel like it was contradicting or compromising any of the values I've tried to impart at home. If anything, I hope the yellow Do Not Cross tape, the safety goggles, even the guy with the General Patton complex, all conveyed the seriousness of this sort of play to my son. He's an intelligent, cautious child. I trust, given good information, he will make responsible choices when it comes to guns.

How I wish that were enough to protect him from them.

*I want to make very clear that although the Boy Scouts of America gives me plenty of grist for humor on my blog, and although I object to their exclusion of honest homosexual people from leadership, and the wearing of shorts with knee socks by full grown people, I think it is a great organization with mostly admirable values, where the good far outweighs the objectionable. And besides, my son loves it.

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Blogger MapGirl said...

Nicely said. I'm a new parent, so it's nice to hear that the line can be redrawn.

I agree with everything you said except for the part about the second amendment. While I abhor guns in my house, with the current administration's tendency to viewing the US as his personal kingdom and displaying no trustworthiness or honesty, I'm glad we've still got the right to bear arms.

I definitely agree about the knee socks.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

mapgirl, when I lived in Canada, I thought Americans were paranoid when it came to government. Now I understand why! :)

I am fascinated by the revolutionary legacy. Like so much about this country it seems to be a value that has more life in rhetoric than in action.


1:14 PM  
Blogger vvernon said...

I have been reading your blog for a couple of months - can't even remember now how I got there, but I enjoyed it and kept reading, along with my four or five other "regulars." I am a 56-year-old female, transplanted to the Pacific NW from St. Louis, and I just wanted to tell you how much I admire your last essay on your son and guns and the general insanity that surrounds our country and that issue. Thank you. And thank you for your lovely, lyrical prose. You are a fine writer.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Lennie Kat said...

"I am fascinated by the revolutionary legacy. Like so much about this country it seems to be a value that has more life in rhetoric than in action."

Rod is an exception and it drives me berserk sometimes. He tends to blame me for some of his revolutionary thinking, but his campaign was his own brainchild - we both have our marital-blame badges.

Incidentally, Vincent found a water gun in Peggy's bathroom a few months ago and she let him bring it home... so, my line is redrawn to include water pistols. That's our only pretend form of bullet weaponry here. Now if I can just get my 3-yr-old to stop "chopping necks off" and "putting swords into eye bones" and so forth. It's all done against the "bad guy", of course, but - sheesh - a little much at 7:30 a.m.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

vvernon, it always makes my day when a reader steps out of the shadows to introduce themselves! thanks for reading.


3:01 PM  
Blogger Karla MG said...

Sounds like we're in a pretty similar spot in regards to our policy on weapons and our kids...and my DS just did overnight Scout camp last week. His two favorites...the fishing and the archery! He's a year younger, so he'll be a Wolf next year.

2:53 AM  

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