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Juliet Linley Headshot

Why I'd never Give my Son a Plastic AK-47

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In Karachi, children are having a blast with a toy called the Osama bin-Laden gun.

According to the Pakistani daily The Express Tribune, the Kalshnikov-type toy is hugely popular.

Aside from the troubling association with the former Al-Qaeda chief, why is it that some parents seem to find nothing wrong with giving their kids fake weapons to play with -- when there is a plethora of other toys available?

Guns have one primary objective: To kill.

In the hands of a child, a toy gun goes bang-bang. And with every bang, a make-believe bullet is propelled into another human.

Why would I have a problem with my child playing with a toy that simulates a Kalashnikov? Because I do not want my child to think guns are a perfectly normal part of daily life. I do not want him to think they are the equivalent of a toy train or a toy horse. And because, frankly, I do not relish the thought of sitting down and describing in detail what the point of a gun is.

Children should not have to be dealing with death and destruction as part of their childhood games.

Toys are fun. They are a form of escapism. They provide happy, carefree moments. That is what a toy is all about.

When death enters my child's life, and at some point it inevitably does, I don't want my child to be immune to it, or to have become anesthetized to it because of over-kill.

I don't want my child to consider death something normal. Death is natural, but it should not be a normal part of a child's growing up. That is why war children are such a tragedy. And why we as a society consider it plain wrong for a child to be caught up in a suicide bombing, a mafia shoot-out or a high school shooting spree.

Giving a child a gun as a toy doesn't demystify the object, as some claim. To me, it actually normalizes it, to the extent that a child will possibly not recognize the immensity of the difference between a play gun and a real gun. How many times have we heard in the news about kids who find their dad's gun in the house and play bang-bang with it -- tragically killing a sibling or playmate in the process?

Given that it is my responsibility to bring up a couple of tomorrow's adults, I am very much aware of what I believe is good and not-so-good for my children. And I stick to those principles as best I can.

I, and many people for that matter, instinctively grimace at the thought of giving a mini-AK47 to a toddler. Why? Because it's not an item that you mess around with. Full stop.

And while not every little boy that played with toy pistols became a serial killer or an assassin, the parental stamp of approval that comes with whatever daddy or an uncle gives you will give a child the feeling that guns are OK. That guns are fun. That guns are innocuous.

But they are not. Let's not kid ourselves here. Guns kill.

So, you might say, are you therefore also opposed to little boys -- or girls -- playing with wooden swords and pretending they're knights in shining armor?

After all, swords, too, kill.

My answer is no, I'm not. And here's why: Swords were weapons of destruction in bygone days. We do not live in a culture that uses swords in wars or in muggings or in bank robberies. So, the fact that my son might play with a wooden sword would not make me feel I am educating him to think that a weapon of destruction is a toy.

Swords are quaint; swords have blades that clang together and most kids will use them precisely for play-fighting. They will prance about wielding the sword, much the way a pirate or fencer would. I've never seen a little boy ferociously stabbing a friend repeatedly with a sword or plunging it macabrely into his mates' jugular. And that's because there is less of a connotation of killing when it comes to swords than when it comes to guns.

In most of the books that glorify knights, there is great emphasis placed on honoring the enemy, defending the king and making sure you behave nobly -- even if the end-game may well be the death of your opponent.

With a machine gun, there is no such quaintness. With a Kalashnikov, there are no popular children's stories telling of the nobility of those that wield them, nor of the art of fighting with one in a decorous fashion.

(Mind you, one type of sword IS used nowadays in some countries as a weapon. In the West Indies, for instance, cutlasses are mainly used for lopping coconuts off palm trees, but they are also used as murder weapons. And machetes likewise elsewhere around the world. However, as a Trinidadian mother I -- and all the other Caribbean moms I know -- would balk if my children were to be given a toy cutlass. It's a world away from a pirate's sword.)

As for those who say that say there's no point making a fuss about your children playing with guns, because they will inevitably go and play with them at their friends' homes if you ban them -- i couldn't disagree more.

Parenting is about providing rules for life for your children. It's about instilling values in them, principles, good manners, good behavior -- and it's about teaching them right from wrong. If you believe a toddler shouldn't be dancing around the house waving a plastic Uzi, stand up for what you believe in.

Ban the guns from your home, and explain why. It's not hard. Children understand. In fact, they need to be given guidelines.

What's all this "Oh well, they'll end up doing it anyway," business? Do you teach your children not to steal? Not to lie? Surely you don't skip those aspects of good up-bringing too, simply because they will inevitably come across children who lie and shoplift?

Children will no doubt tell a few lies or nick an eraser from their school mate, even if they know it's a no-no. But if you don't teach them right from wrong, they wont know which way to turn.

Similarly on the gun front, yes, I might forbid my son from playing with machine guns in our house, only to find him gazing with curiosity at a micro-AK47 when he finds one at someone else's home. It's only to be expected and it's not the end of the world if he plays with it.

But deep down, he will know that it is not the right toy for him. And if you have taken the time to explain to your child the true reasons why toy guns are not welcome at home, starting with the death and destruction connotation, chances are he will keep the item at a distance.

You don't instill the fear of God in the kid and paint the toy as the devil. You do explain that killing is wrong and that a toy that goes bang-bang means another person is no longer alive. Your kid isn't stupid. He'll get it.

To give up on banishing play guns à priori simply because there will always be other kids playing with pistols reminds me of those parents that say they didn't want to buy an iPhone for their 7-year-old, but since everyone else in her class had one, they decided to go along.

If the other kids in your son's primary school start throwing Coke bottles at each other as if they were Molotov cocktails, would you not tell your child to skip that particular playground pastime?

If every parent stuck to their beliefs and instincts with regard to what is -- and what is definitely not -- appropriate for children, society would be a lot better off. And children would have a much clearer picture of what the real values in life are.

We need to protect our children's childhoods. As parents, one of our key roles is to shield kids from the gruesome aspects of adult life for as long as possible.

Of course, it's not always possible. And for children growing up in war zones or in cities with high incidences of violence, it is inevitable that killing and destruction crash upon their worlds far earlier than it does upon children in Boston, Bern or Barcelona.

But why make an effort to bring pseudo-killing machines into their young lives by giving them fake guns?

Children nowadays are already growing up far too fast and seeing far too much violence because of what they watch on-screen -- be it cartoons, movies or newscasts -- and because of what they see in the streets.

And yes, little boys who don't have toy guns will sometimes pick up a stick and go bang-bang at their sister, daddy or uncle. But at least that's them using their imagination (and hopefully someone will turn to them and tell them "That's not a nice thing to do") as opposed to them happily playing with a toy that is clearly condoned by their parents since it came nicely wrapped up in colorful paper.

And no, not all boys who play with guns turn into mass murderers. But nor do all teenagers that smoke die of lung cancer. Nor do all pre-teens that taste whisky develop alcoholism or cirrhosis of the liver.

But we all agree, don't we, that cigarettes and alcohol are no-nos for kids? And it should be the same for toy Kalashikovs.