Washington is wrestling with gun laws. Again. Guidelines everyone drew up have been bent and ignored. Loopholes have appeared. Everyone has just been trusting everyone else to not do anything crazy, and we have lost control, and need to get it back. This week, President Barack Obama has started to do just that; pushing Congress to tighten the laws around gun sales, and promising to take executive action himself on the issue. He intends, for instance, to be sure that any dealer who sells guns is licensed and conducts background checks on buyers, even dealers at gun shows and flea markets, where such requirements have often been sidestepped. Obama also wants to see that guns that get lost or stolen are reported as such.
I think we can all agree that we need rules, and they need to be followed, especially when the safety of our kids and our police force is involved. Watching the president cry when he remembered the Newtown massacre is a reminder that we promised we would do better. You have to be brave to draw a line in the sand; that's the crux of lawmaking, and it's the essence of parenting.
Grown-ups on both sides of the issue are passionate about firearms. And while this important issue is dealt with in Washington, at home, parents have their own rules to draw up. Toy guns and real guns are not the same thing, of course, but parents who are firmly pro-gun-control (like me) know the sticky territory we can get into at home with a toy-gun-loving child. It's a topic that comes up with mom friends, when, after discussing the Obama news, one will ask, "But don't you let your kids play with toy guns?"
My 10-year-old has a collection of more than a dozen Nerf "shooters," as he calls them to sidestep my distaste for guns, and he adores them. But we have a rule at home, and it's that he can't bring them outside, because we live in a neighborhood where a 13-year-old boy, back in 1994, was mistakenly shot by police while holding a plastic toy gun. A playground on our street is named after the victim and my son knows the story, and he understands that toy guns stay indoors.
So that's toy-gun control in my home. At work, I am the toy editor for Parents magazine, and we don't show toy guns, though sometimes we show toys that make shooting noises. Generally we strive to give the impression that guns are nothing to play around with. Plus the juxtaposition of a rifle shape next to all the cute little faces in our pages would be alarming. Those of us who work here know that pretend-shooting goes on with kids, but agree that we don't have to encourage it.
Parenting requires leading by example, making rules, and enforcing them. Our lawmakers have to do the same, and this week marks a historic point. Our president is being a grown-up, and spelling out guidelines that can make our country safer. If it makes him emotional, I totally understand. This business is hard. But a home with no rules is nowhere that anyone wants to be.
Jessica Hartshorn is Parents magazine's entertainment editor and a mom of two.