“Mom, he’s got a gun!” I hear my 17-year-old son, Levi, scream from the den where he’s doing his homework. I race to him faster than a cheetah pursuing a wildebeest. When I get to the den, Levi’s sitting on the couch, his computer open on his lap, the television blasting. My 14-year-old son, Joe, (not his real name because he refuses to allow me to mention him in anything I write), is calmly sauntering past, his hand in the pocket of his basketball shorts.
“What are you talking about?” I scream at Levi for practically causing my untimely demise. “Why would you yell something like that?”
“Because it’s true, mother,” he insists in the condescending tone that only a snarky teenager possesses. “It’s in his pocket.”
I look at Joe as he pulls a 4-inch neon orange Nerf gun out of his pocket. “What, this?” Joe innocently inquires.
“Levi, that is a Nerf gun. Did he shoot you with it?” I ask trying to find some hint of reasonable concern.
“Well, no,” Levi conceded. “But that’s beside the point. It is still a gun, mother. And we do not play with guns in this house.”
“Um, last I checked,” I say with my own intimation of snottiness, “I was the parent, and I make the rules. But thanks so much for your input.” I begin to walk away in a huff.
“Mom,” Levi yells, “This is a really serious issue. Please do not walk away.”
I immediately turn back and sit down on the couch next to him. “Levi,” I ask, “What is the serious issue?”
“Gun violence!” He asserts aggressively. “Teenagers are shooting up schools because they don’t understand the distinction between play guns and real guns. How do you know Joe isn’t stockpiling weapons under his bed?”
“Well, first of all, he sleeps in a loft. Secondly, I’m 100% certain Joe knows the difference between a Nerf gun and an AK-47.” I turn to Joe who is staring at his brother in complete incredulity. “Joe,” I ask, “What is the difference between the Nerf gun in your pocket and a real gun?”
“This is idiotic,” Joe too has the air of an annoyed adolescent. “Um…one is a toy, and the other is a weapon that can actually kill people.”
“My work here is done,” I quip and turn on my heels.
“No!” Levi insists. “I am uncomfortable with him having a gun in this house. I do not feel safe here.”
“You don’t feel safe here?” I ask.
“No, I do not,” Levi insists. “You and he are part of the problem in this country. You are perpetuating the cycle of gun violence by treating this issue so flippantly. I cannot live in a house where gun violence is condoned.”
Now I’m seriously irked. “OK,” I counter, “First of all, no one in this house condones gun violence. We do not own guns. We are not plotting to form a militia and take over the government. We don’t hunt. But I’m totally comfortable with your brother having a Nerf gun, Foam Blaster, or even a Super Soaker. And even though I always prohibited you both from playing with toy guns as toddlers, you both used wooden blocks, LEGOs, and even plastic bananas as pretend guns from time to time.”
I applaud the sincere commitment these young people have made to fix what is clearly broken in our society. Their passionate voices need to be heard. But I worry that blurring the line between reasonable judgment, and hyperbolic rhetoric will undermine the critical message they are trying to send.
I told Joe that he could use his Nerf gun in the privacy of his own room, but that he needed to keep it out of any common areas since his brother was so uncomfortable with it. My compromise infuriated both boys for its perceived insufficiency and unfairness. But that’s my job as a mom, to always be the most unpopular person in the room. And just so you know, I do my job well.