There’s a bit of a dust-up over in England because Prince George, the four-year-old son of Prince William and Kate Middleton, was seen in public playing with a water pistol. The toddler, his Mom, and his sister were out to watch his Dad play in a polo match — hey, we are talking about the British royal family here, after all — and the young boy fooled around with the toy gun, as well as a toy knife and a slinky, as he sat on the grass.
This sparked outrage from some quarters, because Great Britain evidently has recently seen an increase in violence with guns and knives. Some people said that water pistols shouldn’t be seen as fun toys, and it was wrong for his parents to allow Prince George to play with them. One Twitter user fretted that playing with realistic toy guns could lead to children mistakenly shooting themselves with real guns. Another critic, drawing long-term conclusions from the little boy’s play, said: “Sad to see George playing with a gun when the whole country has a gun/knife crime situation. Maybe in training for killing wild life in later years.” Really?
It’s hard for me to believe that people don’t have better things to do than worry about little boys playing with toy guns. When I was a kid, the family toy box included a few western six-shooters and a sheriff’s badge, a cap gun, a few water pistols, and a machine gun that made a whirring noise and sprayed red sparks from the barrel when you pulled the trigger. The other boys in the neighborhood had a similar toy arsenal in their homes. All of these ersatz weapons came in handy when UJ and me and the other kids in the neighborhood were out playing “army” or “Rat Patrol,” cowboys and Indians, or cops and robbers. These games were like a glorified form of hide and seek that allowed the kids in the neighborhood to get out, run around, and use up some of the energy that kids have in abundance, and having a fake gun was just part of the game.
Astonishingly, none of the kids in our neighborhood went on to become gun nuts or mass murderers. We played with toy guns because it was fun, but it was just that — play. And the army-style games alternated with playing baseball or football or freeze tag, or building forts, or catching lightning bugs on a warm summer evening. Playing with guns didn’t glorify guns, or desensitize us to violence, or leave us permanently scarred because one of our gun-toting friends captured us, or any of the other psychobabble concerns that people are articulating now, they were just toys that were part of great games. I’m not a gun person, but if I were a kid I’d do it all over again. It was fun.
Obviously, people in England have a right to be concerned about violence, but we can be sure of one thing — whatever the cause of that violence might be, it isn’t four-year-old boys playing with water pistols. Give the kid and his parents a break, and let him go about his play without projecting adult concerns on a little boy’s innocent fun.