I took the bullet in the chest and fell over dramatically, in what I hoped was slow motion, rolling down the grassy slope with a grunt of faked pain. I was about to die. Again. But I held tight to my plastic gun. It was not the first time this happened, all in a matter of minutes. A few meters away my buddy was dying, too, and he was dying from my shots. Then we strolled home across Hampstead Heath for afternoon tea at his place.
Playing with guns is a serious matter for boys, not because they take it seriously but because it enables children to face the ultimate fear in a way they can manage it – game playing. Actually, most of our dying was copied from actors on our TV; it was fake realism. Copied dying, if you like.
Then there is the matter of courage, facing the threat of an enemy, to which boys are hard wired to respond. Bravery is the opposite of cowardice and no boy wants to be seen other than as a heroic man-figure, ready to defend his family and his cattle against the dastardly bullies and thieves. Just like the Magnificent Seven came to the rescue of a village, so my friends and I stood firm against the often invisible enemy on Hampstead Heath. Game playing is an eternal urge, part of the human condition.
Playing with guns as children has not led any of my friends into a life of crime and violence. Not even Alex, one of my young friends who had a collection of fabulous old revolvers of the cowboy era with which we played in a secret hideout above the corridor to his family dining room. He was obsessed with these guns. But once we stopped playing, he ate his chips with vigour and we went to the movies. More guns. And then we went home, grew up and became adults who can still tell the difference between playing – or pretending – and real life.
All Swiss households have guns. Swiss cinemas screen violent Hollywood movies. Yet Switzerland does not have a shooting death problem. The country has about 2 million privately owned guns in a nation of 8.3 million people, according to Business Insider. In 2016, the country had 47 homicides with firearms.
Some childcare centres in NSW now reportedly Aare planning to ban toy guns, fearing they promote violence. That is a superficial and silly gesture. Violence has other and far more complex causes; it’s not the result of game playing.
Switzerland holds a shooting contest every year for children aged 13 to 17. The land that gave us the cuckoo clock, as Harry Lime said.
Bang goes the theory that kids shooting guns grow up violent.
Illustration: PEA/United Artists.
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