Saturday, January 8, 2011
I watched my thirteen year old son leave the house this afternoon with a semi-automatic NightProwler SA rifle swung over his shoulder, and a Stinger P36 pistol stuffed in his pocket, and I felt rather, shall we say, muddy—grappling with an uneasiness, somberness. After all, I had made the purchase. Me, the one who'd always been philosophically opposed to firearms in the house, and especially in my son's hands. And while Max's weapons are not real guns (well, actually they are real guns), as they are of the AirSoft variety, I still didn't feel quite right about his mission.
These guns are supposed to be toys, a caricature of the real thing, yet they have the potential to harm. They are modern day versions of the BB gun, only, unlike the BB (with some minor exceptions), the point of games played with the AirSoft include—for the most part—other boys as target. Max claims that the ammo, 6mm pellets, doesn't hurt a bit. (You mean that red welt didn't bother you one smack?!) I tried not to think about him getting sprayed, or loading the magazine, as I watched him gingerly bound down the snow-covered road.
Yes, I bought this gun for my son. Me. The neurotic mother (I wasn't always this way). But it was not an easy purchase. About a week before Christmas, I still could not bring myself to buy an AirSoft—safety concerns overwhelming me. I knew, though, that Max had been out with his friends, had borrowed guns, had already ducked behind woodland trees and scrub, shot at targets, other kids, battled in semi-pretend warfare. But he wanted an AirSoft of his own—so that he could freely engage with his friends. I had said No for the past two years. Two years. That's a lot of Nos.
Those two years ago, when Max first asked for an AirSoft gun, I did my research, poked online and found that most dads considered them harmless, thought they were great. Moms even found them safe. I nearly felt betrayed by this, having trouble digging up an argument to support my polar opposite beliefs—until I found an article from a California Police Department warning parents that if a gun looks real, whether a toy or not, they must respond in kind. I even found this Special Public Safety Notice from the Salem County Prosecutor's Office. It's all I needed to place an immediate moratorium on even the thought of guns.
But only a few days before Christmas, my husband put it to me this way: Look, what's the worse of two evils, an AirSoft or an XBox? At least the AirSoft will get him outside with his friends.
Are you kidding, I replied, these are our only options? Indeed, the two items were the only items on Max's Christmas list.
So I did it. I held my breath and went straight to the Hunting department at Dick's Sporting Goods. A young man behind the counter was too eager to assist me. You don't understand, I said, I don't want to make this purchase. Give me a gun that doesn't look like a gun. Give me a gun that won't hurt a fly. Give me a gun my son would hate.
We worked it all out, the young man and I, and I left with the camouflaged NightProwler, biodegradable pellets, camouflaged gloves, a full face mask, hard plastic goggles, a padded hat, a bright orange vest, and targets (as in paper targets).
Christmas morning was bittersweet. Max was ecstatic. I felt... well yes, muddy. But after the present was opened, after Max had fondled and stroked and admired the hardware enough, after it had all been expended, splayed out on the floor, I read him the riot act—told him he'd be taking a gun safety class, listed caveats, blah, blah, blah (the blah blah part most likely being all he heard).
Today he went into combat without the benefit of the gun safety class. But we'll get to it. Soon. He's read the manual, though, he's keeping the safety on, safely storing the guns. Yet I don't feel like it's quite enough. I keep searching for evidence. I want him to know that there's always a horror story.
This evening, I read another, more ominous article, warning parents to not view these types of guns as harmless toys, that they in fact had the potential to seriously injure, even kill. I thought about my teen years, and the Jaycee shooting classes I took with my brother. I thought about the competitions. I thought about the day, not so many years ago, I went sporting clays with my girlfriends. I thought about how surprisingly good I was at it—how I actually enjoyed it.
Oh Hell, I need to let go of it, don't I? I guess I have. Sort of. He's out there in the brush isn't he? But I still don't like it.