The Cornered Cat
Kids and guns — and heroes

You successfully raised a bunch of boys. Did you let them play Super Hero and Cops ‘n Robbers with play guns or the mythical ‘finger gun o’ death’? … Does a responsible parent allow young children to play games where the antagonist has to be killed?

That’s the question a friend asked me awhile back, sparked by the story of two 6-year-olds who were suspended from school for pointing at each other with their fingers during a game of cops and robbers during recess. Or maybe by the story of the little guy who got kicked out of school for throwing an invisible grenade at an imaginary box full of evil, so he could save the world. My friend asked a good question about these stories, one that really strikes to the heart of the matter. Does a responsible parent allow her children to play such games?

We know that question is the heart of the issue, because the intelligent adults running our public schools cannot possibly be worried that someone will take the little boy’s invisible grenade seriously. They aren’t afraid the imaginary explosive will somehow blow up the school, or that a little guy with a finger gun might kill someone by pointing at them. That’s not what this is about. Instead, the school authorities are worried about the childrens’ imaginations. Specifically, they want to stamp out the idea that violence solves some problems that can be solved no other way. So they have to start young and enforce hard. No heroic play-acting allowed.

As Rory Miller has said, the only thing that protects good people from evil violence is good people who are more skilled at violence. That’s a truth that’s very firmly ingrained in human nature, especially in little-boy nature. That’s why six-year-olds picture themselves saving the world. That’s why children like to play at good guys against the bad guys, cops ‘n robbers, cowboys ‘n Indians. 1 It may not be politically correct, but little kids do love to fight imaginary bad guys. It’s woven right through the warp and the woof of their nature.

As a mom, I always wanted my boys to visualize themselves as heroes, as growing up to become the kind of men who would do whatever it takes to protect themselves and the people around them from evil. I wanted them to become the kind of people who would stand up for what is good, even in the face of physical danger. 2 I wanted them to think of themselves as the kind of people who would protect the innocent from evil and the weak from violence.

When some scumbag tried to pull a little girl into a car near the homeschool co-op in our small town, my boys were all under ten years old. They heard the story at the Primer, and came home to ask me what that was about.

After I heard the story, I sat my kids down and told them, “There’s a bad guy and he wants to do bad things to kids. What do you think the kids should do about that? Should they obey him, because he’s a grownup?” By the time we were done talking, every one of my kids could answer that question with a loud, “NO!!” They already knew they did not have to obey a grownup who told them to do something they knew was wrong, but we reinforced it and gave it more context. They’d already learned how to twist out of a wrist grab at those ages, but we practiced it a little in that context. They already knew how to yell, but we practiced yelling in that context.

One of the across-the-street neighbor kids came over later that same week. The boys were in the yard showing him how the wrist grab escape worked. The kid was seven years old, and after my boys had given him the skinny, he came charging into the house to argue with me. “You don’t run away from a bad guy,” this little guy told me indignantly. “You fight him!!”

If I were a school teacher, I’d have had to argue with his premise. That’s the party line; no fighting allowed, because violence never solves anything. But instead I agreed with him, because he was right. It is right to fight evil. So I said, “Yes. We fight bad guys. But we fight them in a smart way, so they won’t win and we will. That’s why we get away and call the police, because they will fight the bad guy better than we can. The police will bring guns and they will bring all their friends who have guns to fight the bad guy. We win when we fight smart like that!”

If we don’t allow our little boys and young men to visualize themselves as heroes, who will grow up to be the next generation of the good men with guns, the ones that good people call when twisting out of the wrist grab isn’t enough?


  1. Yes, I know they’re not “Indians” – and that it was their country. But this article is about kids’ imaginations, not about historic realities.
  2. Ooooh! To do that, we have to admit that physical danger exists in the world, and not just from faux, self-created dangers of extreme sports.

3 Responses to Kids and guns — and heroes

  1. kalaryn says:

    I think teachers should be more worried if a kid was playing pretend and shooting good guys or doing evil things. I think it’s a good role play game for kids to be heroes.

    I knew one lady, that I worked with once, she told me that when she was a kid she used to cheer for the bad guys on TV and she was actually a mean person without a kind heart.

  2. larryarnold says:

    As Rory Miller has said, the only thing that protects good people from evil violence is good people who are more skilled at violence.

    One thing we could do is reframe the argument. To me there is a fundamental difference between the uncontrolled, illegal use of violence to destroy, and the controlled, justified use of force to prevent violence. They really are two very different things.

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