Let children be children

Published 8:41 am Thursday, December 24, 2020

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A little boy in Illinois recently went to the mall, which in and of itself is a joyous and miraculous thing in these pandemic days, to see Santa. He was 4 years old, and he was excited to talk to the man who would make his little boy dreams come true.

Unlike some people who have very high thresholds for satisfaction, the boy’s wish was relatively modest — he wanted a Nerf gun. He sat across the table, socially distanced from the man in the red suit and the white beard, leaning forward from his mother’s lap. He asked for the gun. And Santa said “No. No guns.”

The little boy’s mother thought Santa hadn’t heard correctly and clarified by insisting “He wants a Nerf gun.” And Santa held the line. No guns.

My favorite Christmas movie of the last few decades is “A Christmas Story,” based on the Jean Shepherd memoir. The central character, Ralphie, wants a Red Ryder rifle under the tree. It’s all he wants. And although it seems as if his parents and his teachers and every adult in his town is lined up against him, he eventually gets that gun. This opposition to guns is not a new thing. Ralphie’s story takes place many years ago, in a simpler America.

But, and this is a big but: There were no moral trappings to the opposition to a gun. The reason most parents might have been hesitant to get a weapon for their yearning child was because, as in Ralphie’s case, they were afraid they’d shoot their eyes out, or of some other non-life threatening catastrophe. There was not this sense that giving a toy gun to a child was grooming him to become a sniper.

Today, there are a lot of people out there who are unable to separate the very real dangers posed by actual guns and actual felons from the normal hazards of a wayward sponge pellet flying through the air. I have been the hapless victim of these pellets, and it is not exactly fun to have to pick them out of nostrils when they make contact.

The idea that we should deny little boys, and for that matter little girls, the joy of playing with the toys that they want to play with because we are moralizing preachers of some secular gospel of safety, is anathema. It is wrong to make children feel the weight of our anger against actual catastrophe and to make them mourn, by proxy, with us.

A little boy who wants a gun will not turn into Lee Harvey Oswald. He will not enter a classroom and start shooting at innocents. He will not become a wild-eyed killer, a hardened criminal, someone who has no moral North Star. He is just a little boy who has a list of dreams, and wants to have as many of them fulfilled as possible.

For any adult, let alone the most important adult in a child’s December universe to say “No!” because he wants to make sure we all know that guns are evil, is a cruelty that reduces little boys to tears, and mothers to raging on social media.

Fortunately, the little boy in Illinois did get his Nerf gun, delivered by a much kinder Santa after the moralizing Mall Santa was forced to resign.

And that, my friends, is an example of the magic of Christmas, common sense and the underestimated power of decency.

Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at cflowers1961@gmail.com.