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Pulling the trigger on discussing guns with your kids

This week’s blog post is by WDP co-host Matt Rocco, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with Professor Foster ( his “Brown Mom” wife), and their 3-year-old daughter Viva, who knows to always lead the target with her bubble gun.

We’ve been dragging our feet on discussing guns with our 3-year-old, partly because we don’t want to scare her, partly because we are commie pinko academic city-dwellers and are queasier about the topic than most people. Mostly because she is three years old. You can’t discuss the purpose and dangers of guns without the frame of the permanency of death, man’s capacity for evil and the real dangers of life in the city (and anywhere else). Do you slip in a conversation about the permanency of death and man’s capacity for evil BEFORE or AFTER an episode of “Earth to Luna” and a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios?

But the latest heartbreaking massacre involving guns keeps getting referenced in front of her, it’s summertime in Chicago and therefore Dodge City, and Viva seems to have become cursorily familiar with the idea of guns shooting and killing things. (We saw a dead bird on the sidewalk and she said, “Look, Daddy, a dead bird.” I said, “Maybe it was very old or very sick.” And she said, “Maybe a shooter shooted it.” So, whomever told her that shooters shoot things to death … thanks for nothing.)

We’ll likely skim over the massacres and wait for the news cycle to change, but it seems like she already knows that guns aren’t “squirters” and “flashlights” as she’d previously thought.

Looking past my own artsy peacenik existence, I see that we live in a country obsessed with guns. We fetishize them. They are ubiquitous in popular culture and unavoidable in the news. While it is likely a powerful minority that keeps gun laws so lax, it is a VERY powerful minority indeed, and no changes seem to be coming. So I guess I have to talk to my kid about the world we live in now, not the world as I’d like it to be.

I’ve created an imagined Peripatetic discussion between Viva and I to show you how I intend on handling the matter, and to provide you with ideas for discussing firearms and their place in our society with your little one.

Daddy, what are guns?

Guns are tools, sweetie. Tools like crayons or corkscrews. They are inanimate, amoral and can only be placed within an ethical framework based on the intention of their use.

Crayons are for drawings and corkscrews are for bottles. What do guns do?

Oh, they kill people.

Kill people?

Yes. Like the bird on the sidewalk. Some kill people one at a time. Some are specially designed to kill a lot of people very quickly.

Oh, but those kind are only for Army guys, right?

Not entirely.

Why do they sell guns that are made to kill lots of people quickly?

Mostly because of unfortunately vague wording on the part of the Founding Fathers.

Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson?

Yes. A smart and good man.

Thomas Jefferson the slave owner?

You know his relationship with slavery was very complicated, sweetie. Let’s circle back to that again tomorrow.

Okay, Daddy. Thomas Jefferson wanted people in their houses to have guns that kill lots of people quickly?

Hard to say. They didn’t have those kinds of guns. They barely had an army. People owned other people and dentures were made of wood – it was a different time.

Do guns do anything but kill people?

That’s their main function. I guess sometimes they just scare people into thinking they MIGHT be used to kill them.

Why would you want to kill people or make them think you might kill them?

Oh, lots of reasons. Sometimes you want to rob people and only kill them if things go sideways. Sometimes because you are a really bad guy and just like to watch the life leave someone’s eyes. Sometimes you have to spray bullets into a residential neighborhood so you can sell more drugs. That usually leads to dead people.

Dead bad guys, though, right?

Wellllll, that’s the problem with guns. The bullets don’t always go where you’d like them to go. You know that bus stop we don’t go to anymore a couple of blocks North?

Yes, Daddy.

And that week we didn’t go past the ice cream shop?

Yes, Daddy.

And you know how we don’t go past that next El stop down the street after dark?

Yes, Daddy.

Let’s move on. Anyhow, sometimes you shoot people because you are bad and evil. Sometimes you carry a gun defend the public or American interests.

Like Army guys and police?

Exactly.

So, it’s okay for them to have guns. Nothing ever goes wrong?

Ummm … yes?

Well, that’s a relief.

We can talk about that more in several years.

Okay. So guns kill people, but sometimes good guys have them. And you can also buy guns for your house?

Yes.

Why?

In case a bad guy breaks in while you are sleeping.

A person can be good enough with guns to shoot a bad guy who breaks in while everyone is sleeping?

Oh, absolutely. You just have to really want to repel the intruder. As long as you believe in yourself, you can snapshoot like Doc Holliday at the OK Corral.

The what?

Remind me to show you “Tombstone” in a few years. It’s great.

Okay, Daddy. But what if I am looking around for hidden Christmas presents and find your guns – isn’t there a chance I might accidently hurt myself or my friends?

Well, a responsible gun owner keeps his guns locked up.

Then how do you get to it when a bad guy breaks in?

Guns owners all possess a cat like prowess in addition to expert marksmanship skills.

Oh, that’s good. So, anyone can own any gun at any time? Is that why there is so much shooting in Chicago and why you always turn the news off really fast when I walk in the room?

That’s complicated. They tried to make certain guns illegal in Chicago, but it was overturned by the courts.

Why?

I don’t know. Something about Thomas Jefferson, I guess.

And why do they let the bad guys buy so many guns?

Well, some bad guys just steal the guns, or otherwise obtain them illegally.

So gun laws are worthless and silly?

Some people think so, but a lot of people who get their guns legally or get their hands on their parents’ guns use them for terrible things.

Like what?

Oh, like shooting people when they are praying, or shooting lots of little kids while they are at school.

WAIT – KIDS GET SHOT AT SCHOOL?

All the ti … no. Never.

You can’t take it back, you stupid old man! Kids get shot at school, and people get shot praying, but anyone can still get guns anytime they want?

Not ANYTIME they want, duh. Sometimes you have to wait a few days.

I can’t believe this happens in our country. It must happen A LOT in all those crappy other countries.

Don’t call other countries “crappy,” sweetie. It actually happens way more here than in the rest of the industrialized world.

WHAT? WHY?

Because we have a lot more guns floating around. And we’re super into them. We, like, kiss them goodnight every night.

Why do we do that?

Well, you have to admit they make you feel powerful.

True. Because they give you the power to kill people.

Sometimes lots of people.

Quickly.

Exactly.

Well, if guns are so great, why are there those Ghostbusters symbols with a gun in the middle of it on my preschool, and my music school, and the park district, and your work, and Mommy’s work, and, well, everywhere I go. Doesn’t that mean, “No Guns?”

It actually means, “No Concealed Carry in this building.”

Concealed Carry?

That’s where you can legally hide a gun on your body and walk around.

Because you are a police officer or an Army guy?

No, because you took a class in a strip mall space near the highway. Usually between a “vape” store and a Peter Francis Geraci firm.

The Bankruptcy Info Tapes guy?

We’re getting off topic.

Wait, so random people are walking around with guns and I don’t know it? Why?

To protect themselves and their loved ones from bad guys.

By shooting back at the bad guys in stores and crowds? Does that work?

Well, no. Probably never.

Then why do we allow that potentiality?

You know big words for a 3-year-old. I don’t know why. I think Thomas Jefferson wanted it.

He did?

Hard to say.

So, guns are really dangerous. Regular people get them regular ways and do bad things. Professional bad guys get them other ways. Good people carry them around secretly thinking they can shoot bad guys. And we have more guns and more gun problems than anywhere else in the world but we don’t do anything about it?

Now you’ve got it.

And I could get shot while praying or while at school?

Well, let’s not make too much of that. You could get run over by a bus or hit by lightning, too.

But buses and lightning aren’t manufactured and distributed with the express intent of killing people.

Or PROTECTING people from bad guys.

Seems like a massive arms race that no one can win.

What is this, “Free to Be … You and Me?” You’re talking like a dirty hippie. Next you’re going to tell me that poor people should be able to get medical care. Did Daddy raise you to be a dirty hippie?

No, Daddy. Can we get some ice cream, Daddy?

Of course, sweetie. And what do we do if we hear gunshots?

Stay low and run for cover in a serpentine pattern.

You’re a smart girl, sweetie. You’re going to be just fine. We’re all going to be just fine.

Really, Daddy?

Hard to say, sweetie. Hard to say.

You can CALL the White Dads now on their hotline: (347) 766-3866. Leave a message or a question they can play on the podcast!

If you enjoyed this essay, subscribe to the WDP podcast for free on iTunes!

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