What were parents thinking in giving their son air guns?
What were parents thinking in giving their son air guns? 01/31/02MY TURN Tom Pixton R ecently three boys were expelled from Lake Oswego High School for shooting Air Soft BB guns at one another at swim practice. I know there has been a fair amount of press and radio talk-show time devoted to this incident, focused mainly on whether it is "fair" to suspend or expel these "good" boys from school. After the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and, closer to home, at Springfield High School, we are quick to take action against children who threaten others with weapons or toy weapons. But I have been thinking mostly about the parents who bought the guns for their son. What in the world were they thinking? Perhaps these parents thought they were just providing toys in the same manner toys were provided to them. But in current times, to put a toy gun in your child's hands, especially in a public place, may amount to reckless endangerment of the child's life, if not mere suspension from school. Our children are facing a different world. Toy air guns have caused injuries and deaths. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (October 1997), reported that of 101 children hospitalized for air gun injuries, three died, 15 were blinded permanently, 25 suffered permanent visual loss, and half of those 101 needed surgery. Toy guns are now so completely realistic-looking that federal law applies the same penalties for using a look-alike toy replica in the commission of a crime as using the real thing. In March 2000, two Brooklyn teen-agers were shot and killed by undercover narcotics detectives while brandishing toy handguns. In November 1999, in Monterey Park, Calif., a 13-year-old boy was shot twice in the arm by an undercover officer because the boy had a toy gun that looked like a real gun. In March 1997, a 6-year-old's toy gun and a security mix-up led to a major evacuation at the San Jose International Airport. The stories go on and on. In September 1998, a Seattle school district upheld the expulsion of an 11-year-old for carrying a realistic-looking squirt gun to school. "Toys that look like weapons are treated like weapons," said Trevor Neilson, then a district spokesman. What a concept! Toy weapons should be treated like weapons? Is a gun really something to play with? In 30 years of raising seven children, my wife and I never bought any of our children a toy gun of any kind. I taught them, as I was taught, to handle my gun as if it was loaded at all times and to never to allow the gun barrel to be aimed at a person. They learned that a gun is not a toy. Air-powered guns, such as the type purchased by the Lake Oswego parents, shoot plastic pellets at velocities between 200 and 300 feet per second. Reputable manufacturers of replica BB guns put a blaze orange marker at the tip of the barrel to help distinguish the toy from the real thing, but because of the inherent danger of these "toys," some manufacturers will not sell them to minors. I wonder how many other parents out there have bought air guns for their children. I think most children are capable of distinguishing between a toy gun and the real thing. And I don't wish to be cast as a hand-wringing moralist. But clearly, the bounds and attitudes set by parents of children at play last well into maturity. I hope that in most of our homes, one of those attitudes parents will teach is that guns are not toys, and there will never be any confusion between the two. Tom Pixton is a lawyer from West Linn. http://www.oregonlive.com/metrosouthwest/oregonian/index.ssf?/xml/story.ssf/html_standard.xsl?/base/metro_southwest_news/10123089962551326.xml