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Essay

Don't Shoot

The impulse for gunplay in a dangerous world

October 02, 2005|Randye Hoder | Randye Hoder is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

When my son, Nathaniel, was 3, he wanted a toy gun more than anything else in the world. He begged. He pleaded. He whined. He cried. And he tried to manipulate me.

"The kind of gun I want, Mommy, doesn't kill people," he said. "It makes them come back alive."

Unfortunately for him, the only thing greater than his desire for a toy gun was my conviction that he shouldn't have one.

He'd already turned the age-old childhood practice of fashioning a gun out of nothing into a fine art. I'd walk into his bedroom and see him, head bent over his Legos, carefully placing one brightly colored piece into another. I'd beam with pride at his inventiveness--until, seconds later, he would lift up his creation and take aim.

I'd also been shot at with Tinkertoys, a butter knife, sticks from our yard and, of course, his fingers. I'd watched as he lowered a plastic sword (a weapon I'd already caved in on), and with the requisite rata-tat-tat-tat sound of a machine gun, fired away at me in my kitchen.

But I stood my ground.

That is until one morning, pre-coffee, when I walked into the kitchen and discovered that my son had chewed a perfectly good piece of toast into a flawless replica of a handgun. He was aiming at my head. "OK," I said. "I will buy you a gun--but only if you learn to go poop in the potty."

You see, Nathaniel was still using diapers. I, however, had been through this before with his older sister, and I was done. I'd begged. I'd pleaded. I'd cajoled--all to no avail. But now I had the perfect bribe in my pocket.

My husband, who was sitting at the kitchen counter, lowered his coffee cup and said, "I thought we had agreed: No guns."

"I'm giving up," I answered. "For God's sake, he's shooting me with a piece of toast."

By the next day, Nathaniel was using the potty--and demanding his gun.

When it was time for me to hold up my end of the bargain, I headed to the toy store. I had worked it out in my mind that if I bought him a six-shooter--the kind my friends and I had played cowboys and Indians and cops and robbers with when we were kids--I could live with my decision. After all, a six-shooter tucked into Nathaniel's holster, accompanied by suede chaps hanging from those skinny legs and a cowboy hat perched on his head, was an image that conjured up gunplay from a more innocent era. At least that's what I told myself.

As I pulled up to the mega-toy store on La Cienega Boulevard, I was confident that I'd be in and out in just minutes--giving me plenty of time so that Nathaniel would arrive from preschool and find his six-shooter, neatly wrapped, waiting for him.

But after navigating the aisles for a half an hour, I found myself empty-handed. I asked a salesperson for help, and was surprised to find that he had no idea what I meant by a six-shooter. As I explained in detail what the gun looked like, he started nodding his head. "Sorry," he said, "we don't carry toy guns. They're too dangerous."

"Of course, you carry guns," I replied, dumbfounded. I insisted that he return with me to the aisle where I had seen large plastic replicas of machine guns and rifles with names such as the Exterminator and the Deer Hunter.

"These aren't dangerous?" I asked.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," he said. "It's store policy."

I left nonplused but undeterred, quickly setting off for another toy store. Again, there was no six-shooter. Again, I asked and was told: "We don't carry toy guns. They're too violent."

"What do you mean?" I asked. "How is a little six-shooter more violent than the Vaporizer and the Atom Blaster?" The salesclerk just shrugged.

My next stop was a boutique toy store in Beverly Hills that I knew carried old-fashioned toys such as pick-up sticks, jacks and marbles. Surely, I thought, it would have an old-style toy gun.

I was wrong. At least this time, though, I got an explanation I could understand. The owner told me that the Western-style toy gun I wanted looked too realistic.

"Toy stores," he said, "no longer sell toy guns that look like real guns. They sell cartoon guns."

When I finally got home, I broke the news to Nathaniel: I was unable to find the gun that he so coveted (never mind that he would have been happy with any gun--six-shooter, Atom Blaster, whatever). Feeling as dejected as he did, I promised I'd keep looking.

And I did. A weekend or two later, I was supposed to go to a party where Western-style attire was required. I happened to pass a ramshackle store that had racks of Western shirts on the sidewalk and the promise of cowboy boots and hats inside. I pulled over and walked in.

And there it was, hanging on the wall over the register, still in its original package: a shiny six-shooter inside a rawhide holster with fringe--just as I'd remembered it. As a bonus, the gun came with a lariat and a tie slide to hold a bandanna in place.

"Is that gun for sale?" I asked.

"Sure," the man behind the counter answered.

"How much?"

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