Public Comment

Dr. Toy on Guns, and Alternatives to Violence with Better Choices, and More Play

By Stevanne Auerbach, PhD (Dr. Toy)
Thursday January 03, 2013 - 11:16:00 PM

The inappropriate use of guns, compounded by the senseless killing of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, has resulted in an intense public debate. 

Some responded, as did Wayne LaPierre, the Vice President of the NRA, who called for posting guards at all schools; others feel strongly it's time to disarm everyone to reduce fear; while others feel its more effective to better manage mental illness. We are concerned about the well being of children. 

It seems pointless to increase sales of assault weapons, or train tens of thousands of security guards, as their presence will result in more fear and greater emotional harm. 

The National Shooting Sports Foundation reports that 2011 was another record breaking year for gun sales, with Americans purchasing some 10.8 million firearms, a 14% increase over the previous year and up over 50% from ten years ago. 

However, we are not safer because owning guns is dangerous, as they can be too easily misused, misfired, and mishandled. Too many children have been injured by being able to get easy access to guns. They have been killed by crossfire, playing with guns, or shot by police mistaking a toy gun for a real one. 

According to The Brady Campaign ( over 100,000 people of all ages are annually shot in this country, and 30,000 die from gunshots. Those that do survive are maimed both physically and emotionally. 

Guns and related violence observed in entertainment does great and lasting harm as reported by many studies point overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children. The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children. Its effects are measurable and long-lasting. Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life. 

If Nancy Lanza, the mother who was killed by her son had not possessed the guns in her home, not only would it be likely she would still be alive, so would her son, Adam, and all the other 26 victims who were tragically killed by this young, troubled person who greatly needed psychological assistance. 

The last thing this, or any community in America should do in response to the tragic deaths of vulnerable young children is create more pain and suffering, expand fear and distrust, or increase the supply of guns that are already too easily available, especially those devastating and dangerous assault weapons 

New legislation is being proposed in the New Year by Senator Dianne Feinstein who became mayor after the assassinations in San Francisco of then Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. The Senator's proposed legislation will be a stronger version of the assault weapons ban that was in effect from 1994-2004. Specifically, her bill will ban the sale, importation, transfer or possession of new assault weapons, and requires background checks and licensing of assault weapons that are currently in circulation. The new bill also bans high-capacity clips, magazines, and strips that can hold more than 10 bullets at a time. If you want more information or want to support this action click on this link 

We are safer when no one has a gun as is required in other democratic countries like the UK, Japan, and others where guns are banned, and there are no deaths by guns. Instead, the USA ranks among the highest in gun ownership in the world along with Russia, China, and Korea; and in fatalities and permanent injuries, we rank at the top of the list. 

Yes! Adults in a civilized democratic society must find effective ways to stop senseless killings. Only then will our communities and the world be safer. 

A rally on December 30th in Oakland, California, organized by churches and by other leaders, demanded an end to gun violence in their community after a record number of homicides have killed 130 children and adults over the past year; and most recently a grandmother just walking home with groceries. 

It's time for parents and schools to teach children skills that include mediation, conflict resolution, anger management, anti-bullying, and they should learn self defense skills. We need to put an end to discrimination of any kind. We also must actively identify children and teens that require assistance by trained specialists who can help them heal and resolve issues such as inappropriate behavior, hurting animals, or self-mutilation. If we ignore these social problems, no amount of guns will keep anyone safe from harm in any community. Parents do not have to purchase toy guns for their children as children can act out their fantasy play without being armed. 

On March 13, 1988, while I was Director of the San Francisco International Toy Museum, in response to the shooting death by a policeman of a teen running on Potrero hill with a toy gun, we created a very successful event when children turned in hundreds of toy guns in exchange for Hula Hoops. 

It would be beneficial to offer instead of shooting and violent video games others that are more positive and innovative choices of games and activities that include adventure, racing, role playing, and sports, which provide educational value, and do not harm the child. This holds true for the deluge of violent behavior depicted in films that saturate the minds of young people. 

When it comes to electronics, parents must limit the time spent engaged in technology based activities. Finding balance is essential. Whether it's regarding eating entertainment, or electronics. 

We want our great Democracy to thrive, but not by spreading ideas that it's going to be safer with a gun in one hand, and widespread fear compounded by guards at our schools. Guns on school property would change the precious climate of freedom in education and public places. Safety is important and can be achieved only by sane approaches to security and improving communications. 

It's time for change; but that does not mean turning our schools into armed camps, spreading insecurity instead of laughter and learning, or trust and good sportsmanship. We will not be happier or feel safer with security guards and metal detectors. This is a fallacy meant to alarm and stimulate sales. 

No! It's time for children to learn that the world is safe because the adults around them find more effective ways to stop bickering and conflicts. Adults need to learn to stop reaching for guns to solve problems, and find other less harmful and destructive ways to resolve disagreements. 

We need to provide trained social workers to respond to domestic disputes along with police so that couples/parents/children and others can be helped to find new ways to talk together, and learn to solve issues without resorting to violent responses that only cause pain. 

We can in a more tranquil climate see a bright and secure future for all children. We can then focus as a nation on the future like the economy, jobs, global warming, poor health, inadequate exercise and recreation, improving the quality of education, and other social and economic issues 

Parents must take responsibility of helping children to select books, toys, television programs, movies and video games that are appropriate for each child and that will provide them with learning and positive role models. 

Entertainment materials should be fun, engaging, and stimulate learning and creativity. Products that are selected should be educational, and well worth the child's time, effort, and parent's investment. And, finally the less shooting all children are exposed to whether in reality or in the media the happier and more productive the children will become. 

Parents must not allow children to use products that offer information or images that are: violent, scary, frightening, inappropriate to their age or maturity, or cause other concerns like worry and anxiety, or expose the children to issues they are not mentally or emotionally able to handle. 

Adults need to understand that children vary in personalities and they will observe that some children act out aggression more than others, or they cannot easily make distinctions between reality and fantasy. Or they have poor impulse control or become intense by acting out violent scenes. If children have emotional issues, they can be drawn to the theme of violence for many complex reasons. They need to find safe and constructive outlets for their feelings. 

Many parents from the "baby boomer" generation decided to not buy guns or war toys for their kids only to find the children using tinker toys or other materials to construct guns and other weapons, but that is a natural extension of play, and the child is doing the creating. This alternative assures that adults do not purchase toy guns to give to children as gifts. 

Sadly, there is no place set up to turn in guns and receive a reward equal to the cost of the gun. That offer would have a big impact and be a great value for a savvy retailer like Wal-Mart. Maybe those who are heavily armed might consider instead turning in excess guns to the nearest police station. Then, instead of harming anyone find new ways to solve any issue legally and amicably. 

Instead of guns, children should be actively playing with balls, Frisbees©, Hula Hoops© and jump ropes for exercise and to discharge ill feelings. The sport of jumping rope or keeping the hoop spinning around the body is great fun and benefits all kids (and adults) to be more active. 

It's time to find ways to assist and protect our children by removing guns and preventing violence at home, in school, and in every community. 

Let's strive to solve the problems of gun violence peacefully, and always "Teach our children well!"