Healthy fear of guns leads to a wrongful fear of police

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I don’t understand the attraction some young boys have to playing, or pretending to play, with toy guns.

I never played with them as a child, and Karen and I do not allow our children to play with them. In fact, we don’t even let them play with toys that have toy guns.

One of Gavin’s Christmas presents this past year was a pack of action figures, one of which was holding a gun as though he was shooting it. I quickly cut it off, but when he sees that toy today, he remembers that it came with a gun and asks about it.

I’ve even hidden from him a Boba Fett action figure — despite my affinity for “Star Wars” — that is posed with a gun in hand as though he is shooting it, and yet Gavin asks about it periodically.

Our efforts still don’t stop him from pretending other items are a gun, but we stand our ground against him playing with toy guns. The reason is simple. At only 5 years old, we don’t want him to think that it’s OK to play with a toy that depicts something so dangerous.

I respect the role guns played in the founding of this nation, but also understand the role they play in today’s society. I won’t judge another parent who has no problem with their children playing with toy guns, just as I don’t want those parents judging me for my decisions.

Since neither Karen nor I played with toy guns growing up, we never felt the need to introduce them to our children. We have taught them that guns are dangerous, not toys, just like we never tell them that medicine is candy, even if it tastes like cherry or grape.

We don’t want them to think lightly of such serious items. As a result, they have a healthy fear of guns.

But Gavin also fears anyone who has a gun, even a police officer. He will cower behind Karen or me when he sees an officer with a gun, even though it’s holstered, because he equates guns with bad guys.

I regret that unintended side effect, mostly because he should not fear police. But I would rather have Gavin know guns are dangerous and fear them than to have him think they are harmless and something to play with. Many accidental tragedies could have been avoided had the people involved showed a greater respect for a gun.

I always look for the opportunity to introduce Gavin to a police officer so he realizes he need not fear them. We recently had a chance in my neighborhood’s “spring fling,” a small outdoor party the Villages of Urbana organizes every year.

A deputy from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office was walking around talking to folks, and sure enough Gavin hid behind Karen when he walked by us.

“Mommy, he’s got a gun,” he whispered.

The deputy noticed, and gave me a puzzled look. He stood too far away to hear Gavin, so I explained that he feared his gun.

“Bad experience?” the deputy asked.

“No,” I said. “He’s never been around guns.”

“TV?” he asked.

“Maybe, but we don’t let him play with toy guns, either.”

The deputy nodded, and asked me his name. He knelt down, so he could talk to Gavin at his level.

“Gavin,” he said. “The only reason I have a gun is because the bad guys have guns. I need it to be able to stop them to protect you. Understand?”

Gavin nodded.

“You don’t need to be afraid of the police,” he said. “Understand?”

Gavin nodded again.

“OK, give me five,” the deputy said, holding his hand high.

Gavin came out from behind Karen and gave him five.

The next morning, he walked around the house with a sheriff’s hat, a badge, and a toy telescope holstered like a gun, telling us that he was a police officer and was going to get the bad guys.

We still won’t let him play with toy guns, but at least he seems to have aside his fear of police officers, if only temporarily. He still knows guns are inherently dangerous, and is quick to point out when he sees a bad guy on television wielding one.

I can’t wait to see how he will react to a police officer next time he sees one at a carnival or festival. And if he still cowers behind Karen or me, I’ll go out of my way to introduce him to that officer. I’d much rather have to explain to Gavin a thousand times that some good guys carry guns than hear one of those good guys explain to me once how something tragic just happened because my boy thought a gun is not dangerous.

This is a repost of a column that first appeared in The Gazette on June 24, 2010. Gavin no longer fears the police.

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