My daughter had a couple friends from the first grade over to play at some point during the interminable winter break. My son, all of four years old, was excited enough about having guests over that he broke out his complete toy-gun arsenal: two miniature plastic M16s with neon pink barrels, a broken plastic pistol and a couple Star Wars blasters. The mother of one of the children, drinking coffee with me, didn't seem much concerned until her child picked up a gun and pointed it at my son. "Now," she said rather tightly, "we don't point guns at people."
But where should the kid point the gun? Into the air like the honor guard at a funeral? Into the ground? Wouldn't you be concerned if in your child's imagination, all he could think to do was fire warning shots into the dirt?
No. If you have a toy weapon, you shoot people with it. That's what children have been doing since the Bronze Age. I say this coming from a family of pacifist ministers—one of whom told me of friends many years ago who forbade toy guns in the house until they found their toddler making a gun out of slices of bread. The urge to act out violence is, well, baked into us.
So I am not sympathetic to the administration's handwringing calls for research into violent video games. It seems like a smokescreen for the coming fecklessness the White House knows it will be showing on the real gun issue.
Nor I am not that concerned about the idea of my children watching violent movies either. Bambi, after all, was listed by Time magazine as one of the top 25 Horror Movies of all time. And kids are naturally attracted to themes of violence and death. We may think the mental lives of our children are full of unicorns prancing in the meadows, but there's a lot of mayhem on their minds, too.
Lord knows I have no special insights into what turns play-shooters into actual shooters. But if you love your kids and treat them and your spouse well, I'd bet you can play Halo all day long and they wouldn't end up killers.
I am much more worried, then, about the new poll that says the NRA is more popular than Hollywood. Because, at risk of making a violently obvious point, mass violence on the screen is a lot more benign than the ability to unleash mass violence in real life.
People have their frustrations. Even toddlers smolder with rage. Teenagers and young adults all the more so. The real tragedy isn't that we let them act these frustrations out through entertainment, it's that we give them access to powerful real weaponry that can turn their passing mental stormclouds into actual, widespread death. People are going to point guns at each other. It's our job to make sure they're toy guns.