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Gunning It

Posted: 11/10/11 08:28 AM ET

Ever have a day that starts out fine but then, through some unexpected event, ends with you on an anti-gun, anti-corporate rant?

Yeah, last Monday was like that for me too.

It all started innocently enough. In the wake of an October storm that shut down much of our town, my son's school was closed and I was looking for something new and different to keep him entertained. I've had a weakness for Playmobil products ever since I discovered that each magical set contains perfect, tiny replicas of every animal, tool and vehicle you can imagine. Now that my son is old enough to know not to eat the pieces, we were off to the toy store.

I chose the Playmobil Forest Lodge, an Alpine-style chalet complete with a happy family of four. It looked peaceful and woodsy. Putting it together, I marveled at the miniature rocking chair, the bird's nest with eggs, and the pair of hedgehogs. The head of the toy family, who I'll call "Lederhosen Man" had a pair of teeny binoculars, which I assumed he would use to watch the flock of birds perched in the tree house.

As we opened each new bag of accessories, my son and I discovered a menagerie of animals. In addition to the hedgehogs and birds, there were mice small enough to live in the woodpile, squirrels, a chocolate lab with its own doghouse, and a fawn. There was even a veterinarian's kit and a bottle to feed a baby goat.

The entire thing reminded me of a scene out of "Heidi". My son started playing while I kept assembling.

Eager to see what else Playmobil had in store for us (I was secretly hoping for a couple of skunks and a badger), I opened the next bag and pulled out ... two hunting rifles.

Hunting rifles?

This was unexpected. Could it be that the binoculars were not for bird watching? Were they actually included so Lederhosen Man could locate the adorable baby deer and turn it into venison steaks?

Suddenly, "Heidi" morphed into "Bambi". I pocketed the guns before my son saw them and stuffed them in the trash.

Before I go any further, I should note the following: (1) the rifles were pictured on the back of the box, so Playmobil wasn't hiding them under the chalet floorboards, (2) the guns were not semi-automatic weapons (because, you know, that would be overkill), and (3) the lodge came furnished with a gun rack with a lock (apparently, it's never too early for four-year-olds to learn the importance of securing deadly weapons. Safety first!)

I think the locked gun rack sort of misses the point. Whatever your thoughts on gun control, hunting or the Second Amendment, can't we all agree that four-year-olds don't need toy hunting rifles? Even the NRA's gun safety program, led by the oddly cheerful Eddie the Eagle, teaches kids to stay away from guns, not to play with them.

I'd hope we could all stress this message with preschoolers, especially. Kids this young are unreliable little things. They are bad at keeping their hands to themselves and will bolt in front of cars to get a runaway ball. They don't fully understand the difference between real and pretend. They also have a limited ability to appreciate the consequences of their actions. (In that respect, they're not that different from teenagers.)

Do we really want these miniature people playing with guns, no matter how miniature the guns themselves are?

If preschoolers were capable of locking and loading, I think "Sesame Street" would have tackled this issue already. But you never see Bert and Ernie packing heat.

So why exactly were those two rifles a necessary part of the Forest Lodge?

Playmobil didn't provide a wolf pack that threatened Lederhosen Man and his perfect little family. Forest Lodge is stocked with baby animals and a rocking chair. Who or what is my little guy supposed to shoot?

Where I grew up, schools were closed on the first day of hunting season. I had friends who hunted and knew families for whom hunting was a tradition. I also knew families for whom bagging a deer meant the difference between going hungry and being able to feed their kids. I'm not naïve about guns. What I really hate, though, is the idea of a gun as a toy, especially with really little kids.

I can't imagine what Playmobil hoped kids would learn by including rifles in a play set for the under-six crowd. More importantly, what are we teaching them when we ask them to "play" with something that in real life can be lethal?

I spent most of that afternoon (and the next few) haranguing anyone within earshot about the surprise cache of weapons I discovered in my kid's new toy set. (After some thought, I abandoned my plan to picket Playmobil U.S.A. headquarters.) And I'll still buy more Playmobil products. They're a ton of fun. I have my eye on the underwater diving set -- although I will be checking for harpoons.

I'm just not buying any Playmobil toys that come with guns.

 

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