Running gun blues

Posted: Jan 23, 2005 12:00 AM

If my daughter runs off with a fellow named Clyde and starts shooting up banks, I'll know I made a terrible mistake ? as my wife will no doubt remind me.

Call me a "gun nut" if you must. But I'm really not one. Still, I did give my sweet, innocent 5-year-old daughter a gun for Christmas. Not just any gun, mind you. It's commonly called a "street-sweeper." It's automatic or semi-automatic. Honestly, I don't really know much about guns.

My wife is horrified. It's not that she is anti-gun; it's just that when you pull the trigger, it is awfully loud. Especially when the trigger is pulled in the house.

Did I mention it's a toy gun?

Which certainly didn't make it any easier to find. Had I wanted a real gun, one would imagine from watching TV news that finding a gun is child's play.

But a toy gun? None in the toy stores. Slim pickings even on the Internet (and I'd waited too long to have it shipped). It was as if toy guns had been banned. Not that superstar-shoppers like my wife wouldn't have uncovered one, somewhere, but this amateur was willing to admit failure.

Then, just days before Christmas, I went to Global Foods, a local grocery store that caters to Asians and Latinos. I like to go there because they have vegetables I've never seen or heard of before. It's very educational. And they also carry vegetables I actually recognize. Cheap, too.

On this enchanted day, I bumped right into a display of junky toys. Laying there, telepathically calling to my macho-kid-Christmas-neurosis, was a shiny black submachine gun. The kind of gun that might not have worked so well for playing cowboys and Indians, but my goodness would it shine in any remake of the Untouchables or in an imaginary battle with the Nazis, with me as part of the underground resistance, or a member of an elite commando squad.

Just what my daughter would want! Right? Needless to say, I plopped down my eight dollars.

Look, I know you think I bought the gun for myself. And there is a small element of truth in that, of course. We all live vicariously through our children, especially at Christmas. I always loved playing army when I was a boy. With all my children being girls, admittedly, I do sometimes miss the more macho sights and sounds of the holiday.

But my daughter did want the gun. Granted, it wasn't on her expertly honed final Christmas list. There were simply too many dolls, a wagon, games and DVDs. Nonetheless, my little cutie had asked for a gun. Months ago, during a commercial break in some TV program, she turned to me and said, "Daddy, can I get a gun?"

Before what she had asked even registered in my mind, my brilliant and bossy 13-year-old daughter told her in no uncertain terms (as if to even ask had been a major breech of protocol), "Absolutely not!"

Miffed by my older daughter's usurping of my august parental authority, and now waking up to this unexpected question, I asked the little one why she wanted a gun. She explained in a matter-of-fact way that there were good guys and bad guys and she wanted a gun to protect herself from the bad guys.

"What would you do with a gun?!" her older sister shot back at her.

"Shoot the bad guys," she replied.

I explained to her that she was too young to have a real gun and that our neighborhood was very safe ? a whole lot safer than television, that's for sure. But I also told her that I agreed with her thinking and that, yes, guns can be very, very helpful to good guys in stopping bad guys. (And I double-checked what she was watching, for good measure.)

I decided, then and there, that I wanted her to have a toy gun. And, thanks to the wonders of multiculturalism, I was actually able to find one, no doubt manufactured in China.

My 5-year-old makes a heckuva lot more sense than those who fear, without a shred of evidence, that playing with toy guns will somehow turn kids to crime. She makes more sense than the school in Indiana, where officials altered their school's mascot ? a Minuteman ? to remove the musket he carried. They feared the armed minuteman symbolized gun violence. I guess they hadn't yet gotten to American history.

My young daughter knows the musket as a symbol of freedom, and if a symbol of violence, of justified violence. She knows that guns are not good or bad, but people can be either. (Apparently, reading her my Common Sense e-letter at bedtime is paying off.)

Her toy gun is just a toy. But it is a grand symbol of freedom, self-defense and a healthy disdain for political correctness.

And sometimes she lets me play with it.