Gunplay

This article from last week’s Missoulian caught my eye. The gist of it is summed up in a couple sentences. First this:

Students at Missoula’s Lowell Elementary School were kept inside during afternoon recess Friday while police talked with a person who was carrying a holstered firearm in Westside Park.

Then this:

Police determined that it was legal to have a holstered firearm in the park and that the person had broken no laws. The situation was resolved without further incident.

If you do read the article, I’d recommend not reading the comments . . . unless you are a glutton for punishment and prefer to have your brains rendered to mush. Legal or not, one may question the decision to carry a gun near a school, but I suspect many folks who do carry would think nothing of it. It isn’t that big of a deal to me. I doubt someone meaning to be a menace would wander around with it holstered.

When we first moved back to Missoula, when my son was in 4th/5th grade, he went to Lowell, and we lived nearby. He used to play at that park quite often with his friends. It is of a type with one of those wooden structures on it, kind of like a castle, with slides and climbing poles and things like that. One night he was there with his cousin, who is only a few years older. They were there in the evening, and they were playing Star Wars. They had plastic guns, or water pistols, or something like that . . . and the obligatory sticks for light sabers.

Someone in the area called the cops and said there were people in the park with guns.

The cops came and accosted the boys. I don’t recall for certain the details, but I believe Sid said the cops made them get on the ground, and I don’t recall if the cops had their hands on their guns or had them drawn. The boys didn’t get in any trouble or anything once it was sorted out, but it scared the hell out of them. As for me, what did I do? Nothing. And the reason is because I didn’t hear the story until months later. Sid never told me, he said, because he was afraid he’d get in trouble. Nor did the cops call us parents to explain what had happened, a failure on their part. But that’s Missoula’s Finest for you, I guess. . . .

I still get a chill thinking about that, what could have happened. Then there’s anger at the paranoia of people living near a park who can’t recognize children playing.

Which brings me to the next phase of this post. The Missoula article/incident is somewhat related to this other article I read via Mother Jones a couple weeks ago, called, “Blam! These Tykes Got Busted for “Guns” Made of Legos, Pop-Tarts, and Paper.” This one is well worth your time (as is pretty much everything MJ puts out) to read. The opening paragraph sums it up nicely:

In the wake of the Newtown massacre and the NRA’s call for putting armed guards in America’s schools, some school officials have reacted severely to young kids’ play around the subject of guns. Recent cases have included the suspension of students as young as five years old simply for talking about playing with toy weapons. The offenders’ arsenal has included breakfast pastries, Legos, and Hello Kitty.

Man, when we were kids practically everything we played was some kind of adventure theme that revolved around running and jumping and (simulated) blasting away at each other with bows/guns/lasers/etc. Then there were games we played like “Smear the Queer.” That was one where a gang of kids would throw a football in the air and whoever caught it ran like hell, with everyone in pursuit, until the ballcarrier — aka the “queer” — was smeared. If you were afraid you could toss the ball away before being tackled, but the point was to see how many kids it took to bring you down. Back then “queer” meant nothing to any of us other than the kid with the ball. Nowadays, though, that would never fly, and in the latter case probably justifiably so. Still, these modern folks with their ridiculous rules and paranoias would probably have had us all either doped up or committed.

There was this TV show, SWAT, that had a popular theme song. My friends and I would put the song on, then act out the intro where dudes jump up out of their bunks to grab their weapons and go battle the perps. We used to use anything we could find at the elementary school playground as kind of a sawed-off version of parkour, just because that’s what we saw on TV and in comic books. We hurled ourselves up and down and off things that would probably cripple me these days.

We played versions of capture the flag out in the woods with toy guns, sticks, or anything we could get our hands on with which to simulate a weapon. I have a class picture from the 4th grade or so where I have (besides the shitty, Dad-given, out-behind-the-goat-barn-haircut) scabs on the side of my face from where I took a “grenade” (i.e. a very hard, green, spiky pinecone) at fastball speed to the side of the head. Those days were scraped-up, bloody, and often tear-filled, but also a friggin’ blast.

Our parents managed us with varying degrees of skill and involvement in our lives, and many of us had our share of problems, but none of us that I know of turned out to be murderous sociopaths. And that is even after we graduated to hours and hours of Dungeons and Dragons, a game guaranteed to turn us all into Satanists and perverts! I made it to adulthood just fine, thank you very much.

self_toys

Somewhere the plot has been lost when it comes to the causes for the violence we’ve seen with young men and guns. It isn’t how kids choose to play in the playgrounds, that’s for sure. These silly rules concerning paper and pastry shaped as guns are examples of band-aid solutions that I think are useless. And it bums me out. I’m glad I’m not raising a young kid these days.

 

Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives in Missoula, MT.

10 thoughts on “Gunplay”

  1. I had a whole arsenal of stick weapons man. I kept ’em in a special place in the barn and picked which ever one was appropriate for that day’s play.

    1. Yeah, finding a perfect stick to represent a particular type of weapon was crucial. As well as being able to make a good gun sound, or arrow sound, whatever.

  2. Yeah, I can imagine the trouble I could get into with my gnarly fingers trying to make the classic gun. 😀

    Seriously, this kind of overreaction (cops recently raided a house because a parent posted a picture of his son holding a rifle on Facebook) is scarily similiar to the zero tolerance policy that schools have in regards to drugs.

    Knee jerk reaction that does absolutely nothing to solve the problem and everything stroking the ego/self-esteem of everyone involved.

    1. It does seem like more of an adult, “see how proactive we are” kind of thing. Because adults certainly aren’t going to hold themselves to the same standard they try and hold children to.

  3. The pros and cons, highs and lows of having children aside, every time I come across an article or story like this, I’m thankful I don’t have kids.

    Much like you, I was a gun-loving kid. Growing up first in Alaska, then in central Maine, we had guns and I knew how to handle a gun from about the time I was four or five years old, when my dad sawed off the stock of a .22 caliber rifle so it could fit me better. Even though today I live in Boston and don’t own a firearm, I enjoy shooting whenever I can, keep up on new weapons and in general have a love affair with firearms.

    I’m sure if I had a kid, there would be some kind of kerfluffle surrounding the kid talking about “Daddy loves guns” or some such, and I’d be branded a bad parent or a potential mass murderer, etc.. In my neighborhood last year, a guy was arrested and his “arsenal of high-powered assault weapons” was paraded all over the news. His crime? He unfortunately let his permits run out, probably because, with the several dozen firearms he owned, it’d cost a couple grand every few years to renew them all. The police surrounded his building and it was resolved peaceably. The comments online about the article almost without exception painted him as a human time bomb, waiting to explode into violence and butcher half the town. Frankly, I’m made more nervous by the jackasses I see every day texting on their iPhones and not looking at the road while driving their Lexus or BMW or Audi. The average Bostonian’s likelihood of being killed by some gun-wielding monster is infinitesimal compared with their chances at dying due to some jerk who makes a six-figure income, who is Facebooking while driving their luxury sedan.

    Do we live in a culture that glorifies violence? Sure. But let’s face it, kids were running around playing cowboys and indians, or cops and gangsters, or army men, or whatever, for many generations. I don’t know what’s going to happen with this current trend – perhaps we’ll reach a critical mass, where people finally say “enough is enough”. It sounds like that’s finally beginning to happen in baby steps with the TSA regulations, and perhaps the same will eventually happen with the way children are treated by schools and so on.

    Looking back 20+ years at my junior high and high school days, if they took place now, I’m sure I’d be expelled / suspended over all the violent books I read, as well as drawings, and fiction I created. And yet, now I’m a pretty liberal, peaceful guy. Wonders never cease…

  4. Couldn’t agree more, Chris. Buffalo Springfield: “…paranoia strikes deep, into your heart it will creep”. Jeeze, they’re kids, let ’em play! I admit, however, that it scares me that 9 year old kids seem to have access and use of the real thing, locked, loaded and ready to use.

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