We asked experts, and here's what they had to say.

By Virginia Sole-Smith
Updated September 17, 2020
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Toy guns are nothing new, nor is the question of whether or not they are healthy for kids to be playing with. As a parent, you don't have to buy them if they make you uncomfortable, but, according to experts, you probably shouldn't forbid them either.

"Ideally, kids can make their own guns, or pretend that some other toy is a weapon, because it's a more flexible, imaginative form of play," says Jane Katch, an educator and author of Under Deadman's Skin: Discovering the Meaning of Children's Violent Play. "But I don't advise parents to ban water guns, cap guns, or other pretend weapons if their child is interested in them because that sends the scary message that holding a plastic toy could make you a dangerous person." Banning play guns also makes them more desirable.

plastic pink toy gun
Credit: Gallery Stock

At any age, though, it's smart to set some ground rules for play with toy guns. "Explain that some people don't like to have even a pretend gun pointed at them, and so your child needs to ask a friend's permission before playing that way with this toy," says Diane Levin, Ph.D., professor of early-childhood education at Wheelock College, in Boston, and coauthor of The War Play Dilemma. "This isn't saying that all guns are bad, but it is making it clear that playing guns isn't the same as playing dolls. There may need to be different rules."

You should also talk to your child about the fact that play guns can be mistaken for real guns, sometimes with horrendous consequences, as in the tragic police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014. You can make clear that Rice did nothing wrong in carrying this toy, but you may want to have a rule that play guns must be left at home (most schools don't allow them anyway).

One rule that should be hammered home: If you ever see a real gun, or even one you think might be real, don't touch it, and always go find a grown-up.

Parents Magazine