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.


  1. Very true. I had mainly similar things including the classic spud gun. My dad bought me and my brother fake fencing swords one year. All harmless fun, bar the odd misplaced hit. You're probably right in that doing so when you are younger means it is not really an issue as you grow up - even those who do grow up to stay interested in guns from this young stage probably do so as genuine interests, i.e. rifle clubs, airsofting etc, in which people are interested in the machine as a piece of machinery (like a car fan ) rather than as the fact it can just kill if they are disrespected.
    And to end on a massive generalisation to end, it's a lot to do with the parents and how they pass on their views to their offspring.

  2. I grew a few years later when toy guns had started to be disapproved of, some people still had them, we didn't. So me and my brothers made our own out of lego.
    I think male agression is totally seperate problem I'm sure some kids could start a turf war over needle point.
    whilst doing some youth work recently I was shocked to find how my local area was divided into tiny barrios with the male kids unable to move around for fear of being attacked it was really disheartening.
    I'm not sure of the answer, I was taught just to walk away and consquently rarely had a fight as a kid (except with my brothers!). strangely this didn't leave me open to bullying.
    I do think that we tend to be more solipsitic now a days with our needs being primary, my nephews seem much more obsessed with status than we were.

  3. Anonymous6:13 pm

    As Dr JOhnson said so memorably, 'Every Man thinks meanly of himself for not being a soldier'

    I suppose there are different ways of interpreting that in the context of your statement, David.

    But one way is, to say that the feminisation of our culture and the subsequent idea that anything too male is bad, means that young boys no longer have healthy outlets for this sort of energy and it just builds up. So the only male-role models they have in the culture, whether they're black or white, are gangster rappers.

  4. Anonymous8:10 pm

    A 'me too' post. I loved all types of toy weaponry and grew up into a peacable sort. The only time I got into any bother was when i pistol-whipped my sister in a moment of high childish petulance.
    Apart from the role playing games these toys allow they also confer an impression of power. Someone with a gun is more powerful than others, even more powerful than a mum or a dad - for as long as your a cowboy or a soldier you're a guy who doesn't have to come in because it's time for dinner/bath/bedtime. Until you actually are, of course.

  5. One of the craziest things I ever saw was at a school in the Yemen Republic - Teenage boys carrying rifles into class with them.

    I asked my new friend what was going on. He told me that the boys were all from different tribes, some of which were involved in ongoing blood feuds. The guns were for their protection.

  6. Boys were probably making toy guns before the invention of the real thing..

    The only substantial social change that seems to explain the upsurge in armed conflict among our young is the sharp increase in absentee fathers. If you don't see at first hand how men settle their differences in the real world then your only object lessons in conflict resolution are Batman, the Terminator, and Robocop.