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If Lego Guns are Outlawed, Will Only Bad Kids Have Lego Guns?

Just what individual and systemic reactions are reasonable as we try to face an undeniable violence problem and raise our kids not to be part of it, while not denying them innocent opportunities to emulate role models?

We've seen a LOT of talk about gun violence, gun control, gun owners rights, and frankly, I find it all a little overwhelming as a parent, because my son loves guns.

That's right, he loves guns. Lego guns, laser-sighted Nerf guns, old-timey toy cowboy pistols. Every holiday at my home is an exercise in my son making a case to get the newest toy gun he's heard of. He's not just a toy gun enthusiast, he's a toy gun connoisseur.

That's why every time I hear about something else involving guns I go into dissection mode. The latest incident to parse through the Mom-glasses, right on the heels of Seattle and King County's first gun buyback in 20 years, is a news item out of Cape Cod, in which a 5-year-old faces suspension after building a gun out of Legos. The title of this piece is pulled from a comment posted on that article.

It wasn't long ago that the dangers of carrying anything that looks like a gun--even if it's made of Legos--was highlighted here in Washington when a resident of a developmentally disabled adult group home who pointed a Lego gun was shot at by a King County Sheriff's deputy in Woodinville.

The reaction of threatening suspension for building a Lego gun is on the face of it frustrating, because I can see my son doing the same thing at the age of 5. Now, as a second-grader, he's already had to become well-versed in school policy about weapons. No weapons with your Halloween costume, etc., etc.

Does it stop him from choosing each year's Halloween costume strictly based on how big of a toy weapon it requires? No. Does it stop him from wanting to buy custom-made Lego weapons for his minifigures (seriously, there are websites for that)? No.

Do I let him do those things? Yes.

Following the Woodinville incident, I expressed to a KCSO spokesperson that I worry about my son pointing a Nerf gun at the wrong person--conversations about not playing with toy guns in cars are frequent and common at our house--and she told me that sometimes criminals have been known to paint bright orange or green on actual guns to make them appear to be toys. This may confirm my need to talk to my son about this, but it doesn't make me feel better.

Many parents take the approach of banning toy gunplay altogether, and I admit I would have said I was in that camp before my son was born. We instead addressed it by teaching him that it wasn't appropriate to point them at people, and his Grandpa, who likes guns, donated a real paper target for him to point his gun at. His aunt works for KCSO, and has explained to my son that she's had to use her gun exactly zero times since she's been on the force.

Why did I decide to allow toy guns in the first place? Simply put, he was born into the most military culture the US has seen in years. His heroes aren't bad guys with guns, they are soldiers and police officers, and how can I discourage my son from emulating the good guys? Like it or lump it, guns are a part of both occupations. You should see his eyes light up when we visit the Air Force Base and he sees a soldier coming in from exercises, dressed in camouflage and packing serious heat.

It's also hard for me to reconcile the 700-plus guns turned in at the Seattle event when we have heard from local gun dealers that following recent tragedies around the country and talk of stricter controls that they've had a run on guns. Would getting those guns, destined to be melted down and into rebar, into the hands of responsible gun owners who want them be so bad?

Michael Marinos, the owner of Bigg Dogg Firearms in Issaquah, told Patch recently that if his business was selling guns right now (he's currently searching for a storefront), guns would be flying off the shelves.

"The major manufacturers; Winchester, Remington, Glock, Springfield, etc. cannot keep up with demand," Marinos said in an email to Patch. Marinos said that some of the manufacturers he spoke to at a recent gun expo, the SHOT show in Las Vegas, say they are backlogged 6-8 months with orders.

Obviously, the folks going to gun shops to buy guns can purchase them legally, and most people I've seen commenting on Patch support their right to do so even while expressing concern over how to deal with the issues we face as a country.

It would be nice if there was one simple answer, like forbidding children from playing cops and robbers on school grounds, but there isn't.

What really makes me shake my own head is that so many people do seem to see it as black and white, so much so that a 5-year-old building a Lego gun is apparently seen as an offense rather than as a teachable moment. How can we educate kids if we cut off the conversation by saying no guns, no gun talk, ever?

There are lots of statistics on both sides that do little more than point out that the number of guns in a country is not necessarily the issue, at least not as much as our attitudes toward them.

I'd love to see a real conversation about how we can change the dialogue so we can address the very real issue of gun violence, especially senseless and seemingly inexplicable shootings like some of the recent mass shootings, without resorting to sound bites by not only media, but also by various groups with different ideas about how to address the problem.

Tell us: Is there any way to address this without going to extremes?

Patrick Shane January 30, 2013 at 01:04 AM
40% of guns sold do not perform background checks on the buyer. These are acquired illegally through online gun sales, gun shows, etc. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_hZQPpCJ1M
David Anderson January 30, 2013 at 04:43 PM
It's not about guns, even as it wasn't about the fish. http://lakewood-jblm.patch.com/blog_posts/it-was-never-about-the-fish
Marjorie Pacholec January 30, 2013 at 05:55 PM
That is an impressive lego gun. I can see see where there could be issues. But boys turn sticks, wrapping paper rolls and anything else into guns. Off the top of my head I can't think of adult or a lot of children's shows where you don't see some type of weapon. Having a child suspended from school for a paper gun is excessive. I showed the same type of torn paper to 10 people and no one guessed a gun. Paintball markers and bb guns are banned while assault guns are not. I don't have a problem with toy guns, hunting rifles, or regular gums. I do have a problem with assault guns. Those are for soldiers not Gen public
Elaine Biggerstaff January 30, 2013 at 10:50 PM
The conversation should be about individual responsibility and the fact that the shooters who are mass murderers have no will to live and why is that? Humans have an innate sense of self preservation so what has happened, not only in the U.S., but throughout the world that suicide is now so prevalent? Why are anti-depressants the most common drugs for both adults and children today? Banning guns does absolutely nothing to get at the heart of the problem which is a lack of personal responsibility and a lack of the will to live by so many, including a record number of our veterans.
Jeanne Gustafson January 31, 2013 at 01:52 AM
All of you who have commented so far, thank you. These are exactly the kind of reasoned thoughts for discussion I was hoping for. Anyone else have ideas to share?
Robert Martin January 31, 2013 at 05:02 AM
Elaine, I agree with you that personal responsibility is what is missing. It's not the gun, but the individual that is the danger. I also think it is horrible that our politicians make issues like this political.
Sarah Weinberg January 31, 2013 at 07:40 AM
When my children, now in their 40s, were small, our neighbor's children had toy guns and ran around chasing and shooting one another. My husband and I told our children that we didn't think toy guns were appropriate, but that obviously the neighbors felt differently. We refused to buy any toy guns. Our kids made a toy gun once out of a piece of driftwood, and the states of Idaho, Oklahoma, and Florida from our puzzle map of the U.S. were used for "bang-bang" games. They both outgrew this phase, remained friends with the neighbors, and don't own guns as adults. Our grandson, when he was about 5 years old, once appeared around a corner in our house in the San Juan Islands, pointing a squirt gun at me. I confiscated the squirt gun and delivered a lecture about never pointing even a toy gun at anyone, and that there will be NO guns, toy or real, in Grandma's house. He's about to turn 15, and I see no sign of interest in guns in him, although he likes to play video games when he gets a chance - I don't know how violent those games are, but I think his Dad is monitoring the situation pretty closely. I hope these real stories help answer your concerns, Jeanne, about how to raise children who will keep guns in perspective in our gun-crazy society. The statistic that remains with me is this: If there is a gun in the house, it is 43 times more likely to be used to kill or injure someone living in the house than to kill or injure an intruder.
Facts Matter January 31, 2013 at 11:14 PM
To avoid confusion i see developing over the "Assault weapons" that are being banned, these are not Automatic Firearms. Automatic weapons have been banned for a long time and are not an issue in modern society. The banns being planned ban things such as adjustable stocks and foregrips that make weapons LOOK like military weapons. These features are often times added to standard hunting weapons to allow for greater ease of use and user enjoyment when at the range, but IN NO WAY affect the firing of the weapon. A ban such as this applied to cars would outlaw a standard four cylinder Honda Accord with a spoiler or fin on it because it looked like a race car.
Larry Brothers February 01, 2013 at 06:06 PM
Lego guns are gateway weapons.
Shae Foley February 01, 2013 at 09:45 PM
As a mother with an 8 year old son, I have to say that this article really resonates with me. I had every intention of keeping toy guns out of our lives forever but I swear, my son was born loving toy-guns. And the more I made them forbidden, the more he seemed to be enthralled by them. He was making toy guns out of bread, legos, pretzels, fingers, etc. And if we visited a friend who had toy guns it was ALL he wanted to play with. So. We now have a few toy guns and have had many conversations about what is and isn't appropriate and what the difference is between toy and real guns. It seems that allowing him to play with them and discussing them have lessened his fascination and created many teachable moments. I think that we were paying attention to my son as an individual and noticed that making something forbidden really seemed to add fuel to the fire, so we opted to go this route instead. He actually seems less aggressive now that he is able to pretend to kill monsters and slay dragons, so I feel like we made the right decision for him and for our family.
Lise Quinn February 01, 2013 at 10:01 PM
I feel the same way - toy guns are always banned in my house (all through my children's raising and now my grandchildren). They were banned when I growing up as well. If you teach a child that it is OK to pretend to kill, you are teaching him\her that it is OK to kill. They aren't pretending to target practice or hunt deer.
Lise Quinn February 01, 2013 at 10:02 PM
I second your comments and emotions!
Facts Matter February 02, 2013 at 07:01 AM
Hello Abbie, thank you for sharing your personal thoughts on the matter at hand. While i appreciate your honesty and openness to us all, I would ask that you resist using more sequential exclamation marks and profanity on the topic. The facts as they stand are that the banning of all guns would be unconstitutional, unfeasible, unjustified and ineffective. Should an all around ban hypothetically be put through you would likely see results similar to what has happened in Great Britain which had done the same years ago, this being a drop in gun crime but a dramatic rise in violent crime in general. In G.B. a citizen is 3 times more likely to be a victim of violent crime and the average woman is 4 times more likely to be a victim of rape. However as you pointed out we do live in a "Crazy Country!!" so I suspect you could reach a more accurate projection by doubling said stats. As far as making it more difficult to obtain weapons and closing gun show loopholes i think you will find you are moderately more on point here as this is a method of prevention that could hypothetically make it somewhat more difficult for someone who would not pass a background check to receive a firearm, while not being an end all solution to violent crime. While this is the better option proposed by those wishing to feel better after the Colorado tragedy, I must remind you the weapons used in that were purchased legally by the killers mother and would not have prevented it, or another like it.
Jeanne Gustafson February 02, 2013 at 08:23 PM
I deleted a comment that included profanity. Please feel free to express your opinions--and I thank you for all the thoughtful comments. I really appreciate the perspectives and discussion, and please also follow Patch's terms of use.
Jeanne Gustafson February 03, 2013 at 12:25 AM
Thanks for sharing your stories, Sarah! If both parents can agree, I think that can really work.
Jeanne Gustafson February 03, 2013 at 12:29 AM
Thanks for your comments, Shae. I've had friends say similar things about video games, which so far, for 20 years, have been largely banned in my house (not only for violence issues, but sheer screen-time debates), but it gets harder and harder as my son is exposed elsewhere.

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