This week, I’m reeling over the terrible story out of Kentucky about a 5 year old boy who accidentaly shot and killed his 2 year old sister. The boy was playing with a child-sized hunting rifle he’d recently been given as a gift. His parents said they thought the gun was unloaded but, tragically, it was not.
I am utterly heartbroken for this family, especially the boy who will never get to live a normal life because he has to forever cope with the memory of killing his sister. That burden is simply unimaginable.
But looking beyond the horror of a child killed in such a way, I’m drawn to the fact that the boy had his own hunting rifle. Not a rifle meant for adults, either. This is a rifle scaled and marketed for children. I had no idea such a thing existed and, frankly, I find it very, very upsetting. I have a 5 year old and he is in no way ready to handle lethal weapons, even if he took one of the much touted safety classes the NRA and local gun ranges offer. Hell, he lacks the coordination and attention to caution to carry a full bowl of cereal across the kitchen without sloshing it over the edge. He cannot and should not be given access to firearms. Yes, I know that some kids start hunting that early and it’s part of beloved family traditions but I look at it askance. I’d feel different about a 12 year old on a deer hunting excursion. A 5 year old is, in my opinion, too young.
But there’s more to marketing guns for kids that worries me. It’s part of something bigger and I don’t like the general trend, not just because I’m basically opposed to guns.
There’s an article in Salon about the inroads the gun industry is making into a youth market:
“Kid guns” aren’t such an unusual phenomenon from a marketing perspective; fast food chains, clothing brands and other companies target young consumers to establish product loyalty and lifelong purchasing habits, but a youth recruitment strategy for deadly weapons has, understandably, given some gun control advocates pause.
I’d argue that youth marketing in general should give all parents pause. If you look at toy stores and kids clothes, you’ll see a lot of adult pleasures in miniature form. Power Wheels style motorized cars. High heels for little girls. Salons that offer kiddie mani-pedis. Tech gadgets for kids like computers and tablets. And now kids guns.
If kids have all of these things by the time they’re 5 years old, what will they want at 16? At 25? At 40? What is there for them to aspire to if they’ve already been given access to adult activities and objects well before adulthood?
Kids are kids. Sure, kids like to emulate adult activities and buying them toys to facilitate that isn’t inherently wrong. Toy kitchens are popular for a reason. Matchbox cars are super cool. Dress up clothes are part of every preschool classroom. But those sort of things stop short of full realism. The toy kitchen doesn’t have burners that get hot. The Matchbox cars are too tiny to run over anyone’s foot (though stepping on them is a sublime torture). Dress up clothes trend toward princesses and fireman, rather than red carpet couture. They all leave an element of imagination that makes the real thing aspirational.
I don’t like treating kids like miniature adults and giving them adult things. I have no problem telling my son “That’s not for kids” when he asks about an object in a store or a movie trailer on tv. He’s not ready for adult life or adult toys – especially not lethal ones. He is 5 years old and still cries in frustration when his Legos don’t work the way he expects them too. He could not handle a gun. I don’t know a single 5 year old that could.
There’s no reason to rush kids into growing up. Let them hold onto childhood until they’re really ready to give it up. And part of that means saying no to toys that aren’t really appropriate for kids. Number one on my list? Kids guns.
Photo credit: “My First Rifle”: The .22-caliber, single-shot Crickett (Credit: CRICKETT.COM)