Boys and Guns

My husband went back to work yesterday after a two week vacation and so it’s been just the three of us, getting back into our regular summer routine.  There are, I realized, only three and a half weeks left until school starts and I’m feeling a tad bit melancholy about it.  I decided today we would take advantage of the warmth and sunshine – seize the day – and head to a playground/wading pool.

In my younger, child-free days, I had fairly haughty opinions on kids and guns and violence, and so I smiled ruefully to myself as I found myself hauling three giant bags filled with a picnic, blanket, towels, and water guns.  (Another mom smiled at me and my bags and said cheerfully “I’m the family pack mule too!”).  I spread the blanket down in a sunny area, and marvelled how I am now at the stage where my kids immediately leave me to do their own thing, checking in only when they are hungry.

They also checked in, briefly and occasionally, to inform me how their battle was going.  After arriving at the wading pool with their bazooka-like water guns, they instantly joined up with a pack of similar-aged boys also with bazooka-like water guns whose goal was to destroy a group of older boys with bazooka-like water guns.  In earlier times, this would have worried me considerably, seeing the boys slowly wade through the pool, guns on their shoulders, looking for all the world like American soldiers in a Vietnam war movie.  I heard occasional shrieks of “ATTACK” and “RETREAT, RETREAT!” as they ran around shooting the ten year old boys.  I saw them crouching in the bushes and regrouping as they planned their attack.  It was a little unnerving. 

Our standing rule with water guns is no shooting little kids or those who are unarmed, and no shooting moms.  Especially not me.  I added a second rule, hearing another mom reiterate it, no head shots.  I was, as I always am, amazed at how much time boys – because they were all boys – can spend shooting each other.  When I met up with a friend and her two boys for the very first time last summer at another wading pool, the boys instantly formed friendships based on shooting each other and also pretending to arrest each other.  At that time, I noticed a few mothers with very young children raise their eyebrows at my friend and I, chatting away as our children pummelled each other with streams of water.  I recall feeling that exact same way, when my kids were young.

The thing about these seemingly violent games is that they aren’t really violent at all.  They are fun in a way I don’t understand, but I observe it.  As we were leaving, the boys, all of them, happily waved to each other, hoping they would see each other again, their nameless new friends, all united in battle.


  1. I was all anti-gun when they were small.
    Totally over it now. They can turn a STICK into a gun. Like I heard someone say once, if they were playing “knock over the 7-11” I might be concerned, but otherwise, have at er boys.

  2. I like this post, Nicole.

    I was the same way when my boys were babies. Now I know that boys playing with guns isn’t about violence. It’s role playing having power and exploring stereotypes of gender. It’s not that different from girls acting out being beautiful/glamourous or being maternal. Well, it is slightly different since our society discriminates more against boys than against girls.

  3. Water gun fights are so much fun. I don’t remember ever having rules for them as a kid but now I have a rule of never shoot mom unless she is playing too.

  4. I don’t really feel that water guns are violent. It’s not like you’re arming them with BB guns (I assume). A water gun is simply the vehicle for getting someone else wet. I mean we could send them out with garden hoses but that’s a bit cumbersome.

  5. I remember catching myself saying to Eve “if you’re going to play with the boys, you’re going to have to agree to get shot”. Also, water guns ROCK.

  6. Valid point, Happygeek. I like the ‘no shooting’ mom rule. I also used to like being wet but now being soaked by hose, courtesy of a toddler, isn’t so fun. I also now understand why my own mom would say ‘no splashing.’ Does that make me old?


  7. Totally agree with your rules: don’t shoot the mother! Especially not while she’s working on her tan and reading US magazine!

  8. Well, well said, and I agree with the comments about it being role playing and a chance to run around.

    We also have two boys, and we relaxed the No Gun rule when we realized they were turning their fingers into guns to “shoot the enemy.” We now have a laundry basket full of nerf swords, light sabers and (when inside, empty) water guns.

    We have the same rules you mentioned (especially No Head Shots and No Shooting Adults).

    One additional rule for your consideration: sword on sword! It limits most of the body hits and keeps the combatants at a bit of a distance from one another. Mostly.

  9. It’s the way they’re made. I firmly believe that. Genetics trumps all. 🙂

  10. I started off apprehensive about my son playing with toy guns and gave in to the water gun. It really isn’t the shooting that kids get into, I found. It’s that they naturally love playing in water. He’s an adult now and playing with water guns hasn’t elevated his thinking to use a real one to harm someone. He didn’t have that tendency that should concern me as a kid, so I let him keep having fun.

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