The boy and his gun

Posted: Nov 06, 2003 12:00 AM

Where's Charlton Heston when you need him? All across America, 12-year-old boys should be grasping their toy chests and vowing, in the words of the former National Rifle Association president, "From my cold, dead hands."

The recent scare caused by a toy gun that closed down a congressional building has prompted Brooklyn Democratic Congressman Ed Towns to declare a new urgency to passing his proposed ban on "realistic looking" toy guns. His bill would "ban toys which in size, shape or overall appearance resemble real handguns." Next Towns will be after "realistic looking" daggers, bows and arrows, battle axes and lightsabers -- which, after all, could confuse Stormtroopers into thinking they are facing a threatening situation.

The spirit behind the Towns bill is outrage that toy guns exist at all. "It seems that the only thing toy guns accomplish," Towns wrote in a letter to congressional colleagues, "is to make it easier to commit a crime or whet kids' appetite for a real gun when they get older. They serve no purpose in society and should be banned." This is false. Toy guns serve an enduring, hallowed purpose -- the delight of boys.

Boys are the littlest "gun nuts." For them, joy is a good cap gun. If it shoots something, makes a big bang or looks fearsome, boys love it. Many parents have seen their ambition to keep their boys from toy guns frustrated by their kids' unstoppable trigger fingers. If denied a toy gun, a boy is liable to use a stick, or bite his sandwich into the shape of a gun, or pretend to shoot with his sister's Barbie doll. As the essayist G.K. Chesterton wrote back when bows and arrows were the issue, "No society, claiming to be sane, would have dreamed of supposing that you could abolish all bows unless you could abolish all boys."

Why? It's human nature, the way boys are built. Liberals believe that, given enough persuasion, it somehow can be changed. This is the ambition of an outfit called The Lion & Lamb Project. It sponsors violent-toy "trade-ins" around the country as part of its "toys for peace" campaign. The project explains on its Web site: "Many children's toy chests have been transformed into war chests full of action figures, toy guns and swords, war toys, laser guns and other implements of destruction." At the trade-ins, children fashion their "violent toys into a dramatic Peace Sculpture."

The average overenthusiastic boy might comment, "Great -- and can the Peace Sculpture be turned into a cannon?"

There have indeed been tragic incidents of police accidentally shooting people holding realistic toy guns. But accidents happen. A man in Louisiana was shot recently when he brandished a cell phone that police mistook for a gun. Should cell phones consequently be banned? It's reckless behavior around police, not the objects involved, that tends to be the problem.

A famous case of applying the opposite reasoning has been playing out in Annapolis, Md., this year. A 7-year-old there attempted to hold up a video store with a toy gun -- the most absurd caper since Woody Allen tried a prison break with a gun made of soap in "Take the Money and Run." A city councilwoman promptly called for a ban on such toy guns, earning herself national derision. The first order of business should have been to tell the kid not to try to rob people.

Unfortunately, Towns, the scourge of toy guns, is not some outrider. Similar proposals are bubbling up in state legislatures, and it's impossible to buy a decent toy gun from Toys "R" Us. Too bad. As Chesterton wrote earlier this century about a different toy and its attraction: "The toy sword is the abstraction and emanation of the heroic, apart from all its horrible accidents. It is the soul of the sword, that will never be stained with blood." The toy-gun banners will never understand that -- or the souls of boys.