“Mom, let’s talk about guns,” my 4-year-old says from the back seat.
It takes everything in me not to lose control of the car.
“Um, OK buddy, let’s talk about guns,” I reply, my voice dripping with anxiety.
“I don’t like guns. Do you like guns, Mom?”
“No, buddy. No, I don’t like guns.”
“I don’t either. I don’t like guns because they shoot and hurt people,” he says matter-of-factly while twirling a small train in his little hands.
“That’s true, they can. What do you think you would do if you saw a gun, like at a friend’s house?”
(Deep breath in and hold … hold … hold.)
“Mom, if I ever saw a gun, I would run away to find a mommy to tell her,” he replies.
“That is exactly right. That is EXACTLY what you should do. Don’t stay to talk to whoever has the gun, even if it is your friend. Just leave the situation to find a mommy.”
How was I already having this conversation with my child? Wasn’t he just in a diaper, cooing up at me from a bassinet, like, yesterday? I am totally ill-equipped for this conversation. I thought I had another year or two before this would happen.
I guess somehow, in between the countless stories of gun violence that keep me awake at night, my little boy started to understand that “pow pow” isn’t just a game.
“I don’t think that I want to have a gun,” he continues, “but Mom, maybe only police should have guns, because they fight the bad guys and that means that they need their guns,” he said.
“There are a lot of people who think the same way you do, buddy.”
“And police only shoot the bad guys, anyway, not the good guys,” he says.
“Well, that’s what we hope,” I reply. (No way am I going to touch the other side of that coin with a 4-year-old.)
“But mom, if I don’t have a gun, what can I use to fight the bad guys?”
“I don’t know what you mean. What bad guys?”
“The bad guys, if they come into our house and try to hurt us. Could I use my turtle gun?”
“NO. No no no no no. I need you to listen to me, buddy, for real,” I start, not knowing exactly how I will finish that thought.
My son is talking about a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle “shooter” that he received for Christmas. It fires soft balls that aren’t so soft when they hit you. (This gift was NOT from me.)
I am at a stoplight and look at my son in the rearview mirror. He is paying attention, probably because he heard just how stern my voice was.
I pause to think about what I will say next. How in the world are we here? Waiting to make a left-hand turn into the grocery store, I am having a conversation about gun violence and safety with a kid who can’t even tie his shoes yet.
“Do not ever get your toy gun to try to fight a bad guy, OK? He might think it is real, and that would be bad,” I say.
“OK … but how about I get my sword?” (Again, just a toy, again, not from me.)
“No, not your sword either.”
“But Mom, could I get one of my toy dinosaurs to chomp him? The T-Rex could scare a bad guy. And I can’t let a bad guy hurt my baby sister, Mom. I have protect her.”
Well, dang, kid. You are pointing out every gun issue that is playing out way above your head and somehow simultaneously right before your eyes.
I don’t really know what to say to my son, except, “Buddy, your daddy and I will always protect you and your sister. And we will call the police to help, OK? If you are in danger, find a mommy or find police, OK?”
“OK, Mom, I will,” he says. He looks out the window for a few moments, chewing on his bottom lip and the details of our conversation.
“But Mom, I still think I should sleep with my T-Rex, just in case.”