Please don't teach pre-schoolers about guns

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

My son grabbed the imitation AK47, tearing out the door and onto the lawn. "Rat tat tat tat tat tat," rang the toy machine gun's tinny volley.

"It's a gun mummy!" yelled my little angel. "Look!"

"Yup," I said, reaching for the plastic assault rifle I had used as part of a costume once, and which had re-appeared in the bottom of an old box. "We don't play with guns, though. Mummy's just going to put this away."

Tears ensued, obviously. You don't take anything off a two-and-a-half year old without expecting a full-on war of the wills.

But neither did I want him turning our backyard into a war zone.

Last week, New Zealand childcare chain Evolve Education announced they had created a set of resources to teach gun safety to pre-schoolers.

Developed by the New Zealand arm of an American PR agency, the programme - which includes books, targets, and cut-out guns - has been especially designed for around 40 of Evolve's more rural daycare centres; the chain owns about 130 New Zealand centres all-up.

At first, this seemed fairly innocuous. It's not like Evolve are the first to think of gun licences for kids - when I reported this story in 2011, I spoke to kindergartens around the country who were introducing a version of them.

The reasons for doing so seemed pretty solid - kids are going to pretend play with guns anyway, so why not put some rules around it. Don't point them at people's faces, that kind of thing. Makes sense.

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But there is a difference between a few kindergartens drawing up homemade gun licences and guiding play with some common-sense rules, and a large corporate chain developing a set of resources that initiate kids into gun use.

Of course banning kids from playing with pretend guns won't work. Even just trying to get my toddler to eat something he's decided he doesn't like is to encourage full-scale rebellion.

But proactively teaching kids about gun safety at daycare marks a cultural shift. Early childhood educators and this programme's supporters are kidding themselves if they think, as relayed to the NZ Herald, that it does not promote gun use. Actively discussing guns and their use as a regimented part of early childcare can only serve to normalise these weapons.

This, and the fact it's being promoted by a corporate childcare chain backed by a PR company should be cause for alarm. Who is making money off this, and was this slick website really launched with children's wellbeing front of mind?

Sure, I get that guns might be part of the lives of rural kids, but it should be the responsibility of their parents to teach them age-appropriate gun safety - not for it to be entrenched as one of their earliest learnings.

In the United States last year, Louisiana state representative Dodie Horton - a pro-life, pro-gun Republican - raised the ire of her fellow Republicans when she tried to introduce a bill that would prohibit the carrying of replica guns into schools. The local sheriff wanted the law as a measure to protect kids carrying the realistic-looking weapons from being shot by law enforcement.

But America's powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, wouldn't have it. As reported on This American Life, opponents thought banning toy guns would be a "slippery slope" towards banning real ones. It was not a concession they were willing to make. The bill was quietly binned.

Here, similar logic could be applied. Could the official promotion of toy guns lead to the next generation of adults thinking it logical to pick up a real one?

Seems a bit far-fetched, right? It's not like we're America. Yet.

 - Stuff