WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Just two days after a six-year-old in Michigan shot and killed a classmate this month, my wife took our toddler son to a park near our home. There, a boy about six years old, whom we do not know, pointed a toy gun at our son and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked.
My wife, disturbed, approached the child and told him sternly not to point a gun at anyone. In response, the child disrespectfully pointed the gun at her and pulled the trigger again.
Again, the gun clicked.
In both cases, it did not click harmlessly.
I wish I could speak to the parents of the boy with the toy gun - as well as to others who have given their children toy guns - because this incident in the park offers several lessons.
First, I'd tell his parents: Your child lacks respect for adult authority. This lack of respect directly reflects the upbringing you've provided.
Second, I'd tell his parents: Your child's actions display a recklessness that is distinctly childlike. We cannot expect that a six-year-old will think about the consequences of his every action. That is why the boy in Michigan was not charged with the shooting.
What we can expect, however, is that parents think about consequences. By allowing your child to play with a toy gun amidst strangers, you fail to consider the consequences of your actions, or those of your son.
If you want to consider the consequences of your child's actions, consider this: My wife acted with composure, whereas another parent might not have.
If I had been at the park that day instead of my wife, I would have taken your son's toy gun away. I probably would have thrown it into a nearby trashcan, and it probably would have made your son cry. This probably would have provoked an incident with you, if indeed you were even in attendance to supervise your child; there's no evidence that you were.
If you want to consider the consequences of your own actions, think of this: A BB gun teaches respect because there are immediate, painful consequences of being shot with a BB. Those consequences, while usually not deadly, nevertheless carry weight.
A toy gun once provided pure fun, but in today's environment it reinforces an unfortunate message from video games: Sometimes there are no consequences. That message - your message - is always wrong.
I can't go back to the park and find the child who scared my wife. I can't confront his parents - unless they read this and recognize themselves.
What I can do is ask that all parents refrain from buying toy guns, and ask that those who have already bought them take them away.
We live in a society in which six-year-olds sometimes have real guns. Sometimes they use them. If you want to take the chance that a gun is a toy, take that chance with your child in the privacy of your home.
Don't take chances with my child in public.
If you insist on doing so, don't overreact when I disarm your child.
*C. Devon Marsh is an operations manager in a southeastern regional bank and former US naval officer.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society