Written in direct response to Jamiesha Majevadia’s blog “POW! Act Tough On Play Fighting And Vaccinate Against Mass Shootings.
In her article Majevadia requested we stay away from “THAT” debate on video games and promised a follow up on gender issues. This piece will therefore try and focus away from those issues as much as possible.
The concept of various elements of modern life, from news to video games to swearing, numbing the youth to extreme violence is a common one. The left turns to it as part of its culture of aversion to all violence and suffering, the right turns to it as a scapegoat for gun violence (anything but admit that the guns themselves are the primary culprit for killings involving guns).
However the battle between them has created a situation in western society where they have disproved one another. Liberal focus on clamping down on schoolyard activities under the banner of health and safety has dramatically reduced violent games which used to be the stalwart of (especially boys, gender is an inescapable issue in these arguments) playtime fun. However at the same time as games such as cowboys and indians, cops and robbers or bulldog have faced cutbacks, shootings by youths has skyrocketed. There are hundreds of issues which can explain that fact, but playing cowboy clearly is not one of them.
As someone who shot rifles for years and was part of a military cadet group, I can say without a doubt that guns are exceptionally “cool” in a way many of my peers (mostly female ones, gender rears its head again) simply do not understand. I absolutely love them, the noise, the smell, the physicality, the achievement of blasting down another target. Few things have given me the sheer sense of being awesome (and I mean that in the literal sense, not the slang) as shooting down five 200m targets faster than those around me. I was a very good shot and loved being good; I also thoroughly enjoyed my time in uniform, including two camps at British military bases.
However I’m also aggressively anti-gun politically, in the respect that gun laws should be extremely restrictive and comprehensive. The article I co-wrote with Tom Hashemi should bear witness to that. I have received various threats for my stance in the gun debate and yet continue to passionately argue the case against freedoms to gun ownership even as I plan my next trip down to the pistol range. My experience of violent play as a child or that I have grown up in a low-regulated environment surrounded by rifles has certainly desensitised me to their presence. I have never jumped at gunshots and I have plenty of plastic replicas in my childhood toybox. The concept that this has somehow normalised violence and death or made me any less aware of the danger of these weapons is ludicrous. If anything I have a far greater respectful fear of these weapons than I ever would have done isolated from them.
The idea of guns as “seriously cool” (they are, it’s as undeniable as the coolness of monster trucks, explosions and rugby) does in no way coincide with a flippant attitude towards gun laws and anger at how the pro-gun lobby has betrayed those killed in the United States. Rifle shooting is no less a acceptable sport than the equally violence-based Olympic events of javelin and archery. When correctly safeguarded and protected, guarded by highly trained and vetted professionals, guns are no less dangerous than swords in the hands of fencers. It is ensuring this state of affairs which should be the priority, not clamping down on a child’s playfulness for the whims of the political climate.
Playing with pretend guns as a child is not something that can be simply cut out, it is an inevitable consequence of a child’s competitive nature, playful aggression and the “coolness” that guns will no more shake than will the swords and arrows they also play with.
My only hope is that their play, and the gradual realisation of the concept of death, will slowly teach them the respectful fear that these weapons rightfully deserve.
Photo Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives