Pellet guns and children

By Tyra Damm

Last week an eighth-grader in Brownsville was shot and killed when he refused to stand down and lower his weapon.

Turns out that his weapon was a pellet gun that looked very much like a real gun. Officers say they couldn’t distinguish the difference, and force was necessary for fear that the child would shoot and kill others.

Last week in my own neighborhood, battles were brewing over pellet guns.

The guns are popular after-school playthings for many neighbor boys, even though it’s against Frisco law to discharge them in the city limits.

A middle school boy was threatening younger kids by pointing the gun at close range. An elementary school boy was hit and bruised by one of the pellets.

This is all in open green space, near homes and backyards dotted with jungle gyms, space where parents are usually comfortable allowing their children to run around unsupervised.

I grew up with no exposure to guns, no interest in weapons. I don’t understand the fascination that people have with shooting virtual people on video games or shooting real people with pellets or paintballs. But I recognize it exists and that it’s the culture I’m raising my own children in.

In an effort to better understand gun play, this week I called on Dr. Sarah Feuerbacher, a licensed clinical social worker supervisor and the clinic director of the Family Counseling Center at Southern Methodist University.

Feuerbacher, mom of a toddler son, specializes in family violence and healthy relationships. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Why do children, especially boys, like to play with guns?

Just like girls are socialized to typically play with Barbies and pink things, it’s going to be the same thing for little boys at a very early age. It’s very much a socialization thing. It’s very much environmental.

Even if a child lives in a home without guns, they aren’t so isolated to live only in that home. At some point that child is going to be exposed to it.

The pellet guns sold today are remarkably realistic interpretations of automatic weapons. Why is the market eager for such realistic weapons?

There’s a video that I show in family violence class, Tough Guise by Jason Katz. It goes through and depicts pictures of G.I. Joe from World War II up to today. It’s incredible to see how the action figure’s body has changed, depicting a much stronger, bulkier individual. The guns are also true to form.

The guns have changed since the cowboy days. The real guns are getting bigger.

If a family chooses to allow their children to play with pellet guns, what kind of rules do you suggest? What should those families talk about with their children?

Never aim it at something living, especially a person, but even a squirrel. Teach them the difference between something with life and aiming at the ground.

Talk about what it represents and where you might see a gun for real. Ask, “How do guns make other people feel?”

Talk to them at a young age — what are the rules around real guns in the house?

They should make sure the family is protected, that there is appropriate security.

If a parent has a gun in the home and a child happens upon it, that child is going to be at a disadvantage if they haven’t talked about it.

Shooting pellet guns in a safe environment at targets on a tree is very different than running around, chasing each other in the street unsupervised.

How can families that do allow access to these kinds of guns live peacefully with families that don’t?

I highly recommend that pellet guns be kept in a gun case or safe, locked.

When a pellet gun is used, it’s with appropriate supervision, like a father taking his son to a deer lease. Go to an appropriate location. Put a target up together. Shoot it in that capacity.

The entire system should model what a parent would do in a real gun environment.

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Jan 16, 2012
Expert incompetence. This reporterette should have asked a "Bitter Clinger," with a gun on his hip and living in the "real gun environment." That ought to be easy at Methodist University.

Good people ought to be armed as they will, with wits and Guns and the Truth.
Jan 16, 2012
Last week in my own neighborhood, battles were brewing over pellet guns.

This might sound harsh, but a kid that is dumb enough not to lower a gun when an officer is pointing a gun at him is in bad need of being weeded out.

we shouldn't debate whether pellet guns are OK. We should debate what kind of parenting is (or isn't) going on to make kids behave in such a stupid manner.

With good parenting kids shouldn't even WANT to play with guns or gun lookalikes.
Jan 17, 2012
Perhaps antialias, you might care to comment on whether cops who are so professionally adept as to shoot and kill a child with a pellet gun might be «in bad need of being weeded out» ?...

Presumably the parenting which produces such people - as well as other environmental factors (the military ?) could also become the subject of debate....

Jan 17, 2012
NRA has many gun safety programs for children. Eddy Eagle is one.
But the 'child' shot in TX was in his teens.
Jan 17, 2012
you might care to comment on whether cops

Cops are called to a scene where someone is waving a gun around. They don't know it's just a pellet gun. They are called to HANDLE the scene. They don't have the option just to leave - people might be in danger. What were they supposed to do?
Repeatedly ask the perp to put down the gun? Check.
Eliminate the threat if no compliance was forthcoming. Check.

If you have ANY suggestion what they might have done differently: let's hear it.
Jan 17, 2012
This is all in open green space, near homes and backyards dotted with jungle gyms, space where parents are usually comfortable allowing their children to run around unsupervised.

I wouldn't feel safe leaving my kid unsupervised anywhere in "Frisco" as the writer names it.

Also, don't these guns have those big orange ends on them to help establish a difference between real and fake? I know that is a law at least here in California.
Jan 17, 2012
Pellet guns are real. Good ones can be used for varmit hunting.
Toys have orange ends.
A real gun, loaded or unloaded, a replica, or a pellet gun are all the same to someone staring down the business end and not following instructions.
All firearms training posits never point a gun at anyone or anything unless planning to use it.
Jan 17, 2012
The child:
"The student was identified as 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez. "
Jan 17, 2012
Anybody with half a brain knows that if a cop has gun drawn and you don't do what he is telling you to do you're gonna get shot.
Jan 19, 2012
The solution is to take your kid to a real gun range and teach them to shoot properly. While they learn how to do that, they'll also learn firearm handling discipline, safety practices, and ethics.

There are many good programs out there. I have a son and a daughter in the 4-H shooting program where they teach archery, rifle marksmanship, Shotgun practice on trap and skeet ranges, and yes handgun marksmanship.

The problem in my experience, is that pellet guns often tread that scary divide between a toy and a real weapon. My children, having fired the real things, know full well what a pellet gun could do. They treat them with the same care and training they learned at the gun club.

The rest of you can pontificate the what-ifs. I have children and I'm putting what I say to practice. I figure that as they learn the discipline of using dangerous tools, they'll be safer in the long run when they learn things like driving a car.
Jan 19, 2012
Anybody with half a brain knows that if a cop has gun drawn and you don't do what he is telling you to do you're gonna get shot.

Children who have not learned discipline from their parents will not have that "half a brain."
Jan 21, 2012
With good parenting kids shouldn't even WANT to play with guns or gun lookalikes.

Why not? There is nothing wrong with playing with gun lookalikes or those weak air guns for children if under supervision. Its fun, I did it a lot as a kid. Better than sitting in front of computer playing CoD as todays youth does.

Jan 25, 2012
What the cops didn't say aloud was "If you don't put the gun down now, we WILL shoot to kill. Do you understand?"

Therefore I'm not entirely satisfied with these cops.

Had the boy been white, he wouldn't be dead.

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