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Friday, June 27, 2008

Kids With Guns

We were talking about toy guns in the office. As a child I carried a gun all the time. When we went to chapel one Christmas morning I insisted on wearing my newly-acquired cowboy outfit. I was even allowed to keep the gun with me as long as I closed the holster.

Then I had a plastic space gun. When you pulled the trigger it lit up at the end. I saved up for a black Colt 45. When I got to the toy shop they only had the silver one left. I choked back the tears of frustration all the way home.

Then there was a Winchester repeating rifle with a lever action. There was a Tommy Gun. You pulled back the ratchet which was then released noisily as you pulled the trigger. I also had rubber knifes, pirate cutlasses made of some presumably unsafe compound and a Zorro fencing foil with a rubber sucker at its pointy end. I wasn't unusual in this. All my contemporaries had the same interest in weaponry. It was considered just one of those things that boys did.

I'm sure there must have been one or two of us who grew up with an unhealthy interest in real guns but it's difficult to believe that it had much to do with early conditioning. When I think of it we were a peacable lot. It wasn't because of any hippy doctrine. The "peace" philosophy came much later. We just didn't see the point. There was the odd playground punch-up but I have no memory of any child carrying a real weapon with a view to either using it or deterring anyone else from doing the same.

Many of the kids who've been raised in the last thirty years have had their access to so-called "war toys" restricted by disapproving parents. The rising incidence of violent crime among teenagers seems to fly in the face of the neat theory that if you deny them this grisly tackle in their formative years they are more likely to grow into peaceful citizens. It doesn't seem to work like that.

Some of this stuff is just hard-wired into the male of the species. When our son was tiny he bit a square out of a slice of toast until all that was left was an L-shaped crust and then pointed the business end at his mother. At the time he'd never had any toy gun and he hasn't grown up with any interest in weaponry.

My theory of youth violence is it's all about prestige. I read an account by a sociologist who described gang behaviour as being all about "parading". It's "get out of the way of my bike", "did you scuff my trainers?" or, in its most chilling form, "are you looking at me funny?" Once adopted these are the kind of stances that cannot be retreated from.

Of course such "fronting" has always gone on. But back in the day the indignation might have been real but the guns weren't. These days it's likely to be the other way around.