It all started when my husband took our preschooler to Mount Vernon, home to the “father of our country.” They came home with a tricorner hat, a compass, and a cute little wooden popgun. That was last year. Today, our house is littered with toy slingshots, cannons, and guns—the result of a growing fascination with “good guys,” “bad guys,” and all of the banging and kabooming that goes on in between.
Until recently, I had become adept at making jokes about my son’s fascination with toy guns. I figured, this is probably just a phase; it will pass soon enough, right? Unfortunately, the horrific shootings in Tucson, Arizona have shed glaring new light on the gun play in my house. Can a fascination with guns go too far?
Hardwired for Gun Play?
First, a basic question: Are little boys predisposed to gun play?
“All one needs to do is look around to see that a connection exists,” says Joshua Weiner, an Arlington, Virginia-based psychiatrist who specializes in children and adolescents. “This connection is likely—like most things—a combination of genetics and environment.”
In today’s society, it is difficult to shield a child from “expressions of violence,” whether they come from television shows, video games or even older siblings and friends, Weiner notes. “Boys are likely predisposed to respond.”
“Boys probably have some yet-unknown gene which contributes to this behavior,” he adds. “Think about men being the hunter/gatherer and needing to kill for food and to protect their family.”
Still, identifying the ancestral underpinnings of aggression in boys doesn’t make it any easier for parents.
Molly Wilkinson Johnson, a mom of one in Huntsville, Alabama, remembers feeling “chills” when a boy pointed a toy gun at her infant son: “And yet I can see my baby being that five-year-old in a few years!”