Dana Hunsinger Benbow, The Indianapolis Star
INDIANAPOLIS -- The nation's been abuzz with talk of gun control.
But what about toy gun control?
Sure, those plastic weapons can't hurt anyone. But are they hurting the children who use them?
Child experts say there is no research or data that proves a child who plays with toy guns will grow up to be a violent adult who might pull off a tragic scenario like the one earlier this month in Connecticut.
"There is nothing inherently good or bad about kids playing with toy guns," said Daniel Stauber, who specializes in treating children and adolescents at Community Psychological Consultants in Indianapolis. "It all depends on the child."
But parents -- and plenty of others in the lives of children from daycare providers to toy store owners -- are clearly not neutral on the question of whether the youngest in our society should be pretend shooting.
"Guns aren't the problem, people are," said Anne Lewis, who with her husband, Jon, has 10 children. "If you teach your children a respect for life and others, then guns are only toys to kids at this age."
Lewis, who lives in Fishers, said her 3-year-old twin boys shoot Lego guns they make themselves, and the couple takes their 9- and 10-year-old sons for paintball shooting.
"But our sons will come running at the drop of a hat if they see a friend hurt or in pain," said Lewis, adding she strives to instill Christian values in all her children. "It's not a gun that objectifies a human life. It's the person whose needs come in front of the life and needs of others."
As strongly as Lewis feels about allowing her boys to shoot toy guns, Jordan Fisch is just as vehement about not letting her toddler, Eli, play with the weapons.
"I don't want him to glorify shooting," said Fisch, a former kindergarten teacher in New York who lives in Carmel. "It just glorifies the hurting and the killing. He's so innocent, and you might as well protect that as long as you can."
So when she was at Target and Eli found a pack of army men he wanted (and some of those men had guns in their hands) Fisch struggled with whether to buy them.
She decided she would. But when Eli asked what the men were holding, Fisch told him they were fishing poles.
"Now he refers to guns as fishing poles, and I hope it remains that way for as long as possible," she said.
Of course, just because a parent doesn't buy their children toy guns doesn't mean they won't play with them, said Stauber.
"A kid can always make a gun out of a stick. They can use their finger," he said.
Maybe so, but if Renee Morales, the owner of Promises & Possibilities Daycare in McCordsville sees children pointing their fingers like a gun, they are promptly told to stop.
"I don't allow any gun play at all, not even a finger and let me tell you, it's hard to keep them from doing it," said Morales, who has owned a daycare for 28 years.
It's tough because in her rural community, many of the dads are hunters so the kids say "Daddy has a gun," she said.
But Morales worries that preschool-age kids don't realize the consequences from guns, that death is permanent.
"Kids at this age, they see something happen to SpongeBob, and then he comes right back to life," she said. "It's not permanent to them."
Daycare owner Deb Siener has another reason for banning toy guns at her daycare.
"Too many kids have been killed by policemen thinking the kid had a real gun and it turned out to be a toy," she said.
Just as the real gun control topic is controversial, so is the toy gun control topic.
ToysRUs didn't want to comment on its toy gun policy.
Terri Bracken at Earth Explorer Toys in Zionsville wasn't keen on approaching the subject.
"I wish this was something we didn't have to talk about," she said.
She has made a conscience decision to not carry guns that have triggers. She sells a marshmallow gun that propels soft, edible bullets by pumping.
Still, Bracken isn't against toy guns. She let her children play with them. And many Lego and Play Mobil sets she carries have characters that hold tiny guns.
"We're not teaching a kid what a gun is," she said. "They already know what they are."
Especially the nephews of Joe Lowder, who don't just play with toy guns.
As soon as they were big enough to hold his .22 rifle (around 6 to 8 years old), he started teaching them to shoot.
"I believe teaching kids when they are young about life and death and how they relate to guns and gun safety is good," said Lowder.
The thought of putting a toy gun, let alone a real gun, in the hands of children sends chills down the spine of Mary Anne Bethel.
"I cringe when I even see a kid shooting a toy gun at another kid," said the Indianapolis mother of two boys, 8 and 9, who have never owned a toy weapon. "People can say there is no connection, but toy guns are the same as real guns. They kill people -- even if it is only in the kid's imagination.
The Indianapolis Star