Last night, the boy and I sat down to watch Raiders of The Lost Ark — a big moment in both of our lives, as it would be his first time seeing an Indiana Jones flick. I figured he was old enough (7) to sit through most of it – I gave him the heads-up that the ending is pretty gnarly, what with the killer angels and the melting Nazis and the exploding heads and such. He watched with a pillow in his lap, poised to cover his face at my cue. We both said “WHOA!” when Indy and Sallah peered down into the snake-packed Well of The Souls (“Is that done with computers?” he asked. “Nope,” I said. “Those are all real snakes,” somewhat wistfully as I’m sure that even now, George Lucas is trying to figure out a way to add a few million more CGI serpents to the inevitable 3D re-release). We both laughed hysterically when Indy shot the menacing swordsman. Lucas (my son, not the despoiler of every geeky dad’s childhood memories) loved the movie, of course; he’s insisting that we watch the remainder of the series over the course of his Thanksgiving break. This morning saw the inevitable: He put together an Indiana Jones costume using an old cowboy hat, a couple of belts (one serving as Indy’s trademark whip), and every single one of his considerable arsenal of toy pistols.
Yep, the kid’s got quite a gun collection. Replica six-shooters, Star Wars blasters, and a brace of Nerf rifles. And I’m a card-carrying progressive Democrat who firmly believes in strict gun control laws.
This used to be a toy gun-free house. When the kid grew old enough to play with Big Boy Toys, I laid down the law, to my wife, in-laws, and my parents — there would be no toy guns of any kind. I didn’t want my kid pretending to shoot people, the dog, anyone, anything; I didn’t want him desensitized to gun violence. I’d seen friends give their four-year-old boys replica Army rifles and was slightly horrified. This, I reasoned, was how Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris got started.
So what changed my mind? I did; rather, 8-year-old me did. Because like most 8-year-olds growing up in the decidedly less PC mid-’70s, I had a massive toy gun collection myself. And my buddies and I played at war constantly. I also grew up on military bases, and perhaps that was the reason why I never confused pretend war with the real thing: My dad had served in Vietnam, and though I can’t recall ever getting a lecture about the harsh realities of war and gun violence, I somehow knew that playing with toy guns was one thing, using a real one was quite another.
There’s no moral to this story. I’d like to tell you that after we watched the movie, Lucas asked me about the Nazis and I told him all about World War II and the millions of soldiers and civilians who were cut down by bullets, and thus moved, he decided to hang up his plastic six-shooters. He did ask, of course, and I told him, and this morning when I asked him if he really needed all of those toy guns (Indy only had the pistol, I reminded him), he laughed. “Dad, it’s just pretend,” he replied. That answer will have to suffice.