Nerf Guns: Lifting the Ban

This past Christmas we lifted our family’s self imposed ban on Nerf guns. Banning them was never a conscious decision, but acquiring them has been a process. When my first son, who was born in 2009, became old enough to become aware of them, we halfheartedly said “No” on a few occasions. While we live in a hunting state, support our hunters, and while my husband has been a hunter in his past, guns were not part of our familial makeup, and so with barely a discussion we just said no.

By the time his brother arrived on the scene in 2012, and then became old enough for Nerf awareness, it was very clear to us that they would be causing each other enough bodily damage with spoons and cotton balls. So we continued to say no. Everything in our house was transformed by imagination into a sword, or a gun, it hardly seemed necessary to also have the real fake thing. Then along came a baby sister in 2015 and somewhere along the way my eldest got the idea that we were waiting for a magic number for all three children. That glorious golden age at which all the Nerf guns could at last be his.

Images: Sarah Pinault

Despite a child’s yearning, we’ve never actually needed toy guns or swords in our home. Our kids pick up anything and turn it into all manner of things. Umbrellas in the rain become shelters for orphans. Furniture becomes islands. Floors obviously become lava. And so of course balloon animals can be guns. Stuffed toys can be guns. Green beans at the dinner table can be guns. Our imaginative swordplay has more than made up for the lack of actual weaponry.

Over the last few years we have attended a number of Nerf-themed birthday parties, where all of us, adults included have happily joined in. It’s like lobbing cotton swabs at each other. One of these parties sent home a small nerf gun with three bullets. It was hidden from sight within a week, because playtime quickly turned into sniper fire when siblings were being annoying.

But when our eldest turned 13 last year and lamented about the oft-longed-for Nerf gun, we had to actually decide. Are we intentionally anti-Nerf or just accidentally anti-Nerf? We aren’t anti-gun, or anti-roughhousing. We aren’t anti-hunting, we live in a very hunter-oriented area of Maine. Sure there is a lot of baggage with the terminology, and certainly the picture of a kid with a Nerf gun looks very different now than thirty years ago. But are we actually anti-foam darts being propelled at low speeds towards your siblings?

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We decided that we weren’t. We also decided that with three children, we should probably arm all three children at the same time, in order that the younger siblings might protect themselves. We then decided to buy identical nerf guns for all three to avoid the instantaneous whining and competition that ensues within all families of multiple children. While I threw myself headlong into the varieties, the themes, the bullet capacity, I let the pre-Christmas sales and the calm demeanor of my husband guide me. We settled on the Nerf Elite 2.0 Commander RD-6 Dart Blaster. This particular model held 6 Nerf darts at a time and fired darts up to 90 feet (27 meters). It also has a rotating chamber for rapid fire, as this has been my personal preference at birthday parties!

Image: Hasbro

Christmas morning came, and I could barely contain my excitement. The morning promised to be a bit more sedate than planned, as the seven year old had a broken collarbone, but I sat with bated breath as the first child came across the Nerf package. My thirteen year old was momentarily confused before a look of sheer joy spread across his face. While he peppered me with questions the other two caught on to what had happened, and as I confirmed that everyone had one, they dove into their presents looking for identical packages. The joy was everything I had hoped for.

The biggest concern my son had was what this meant for our family now. Was this a blanket approval of Nerf guns or just a test run approval of this one Nerf gun? While the little ones started arming themselves, the eldest one waxed poetic about all the different things he had seen and wanted, and of all the different ways the current gun could be adapted. When the presents were all unwrapped they suited up and went outside. My back garden joining thousands of others across the country, now covered in little foam pellets. Within a few days, the Nerf gun total in our house had doubled as all the Christmas money my eldest son received was spent on a Nerf bow and arrow set, and on a bigger Nerf gun.

Now at the end of month two with Nerf guns in our house, I remain happy with our decision to open up this new world to our kids. They have played with them no more than any other toy they own. It has not increased their violence toward each other. The rule of keeping the shooting outside, has led to them playing outside a little more than is usual for January in Maine, and I have a feeling the battles will increase as the temperature does. Though I am finding that now they are no longer “forbidden” the allure has somewhat diminished. Certainly they linger less in the Nerf aisle at Target these days.

My kids have grown up in a world that I did not. Where my childhood knew only fire drills, my kids know active shooter drills and lockdowns. This is the world they live in, not my 1980s childhood. While toy guns will remain problematic, and the conversation around them will only intensify I am sure, I feel confident in our decision to enter the world of Nerf with our kids. To keep talking to them about safe play, and to let them feel their own way out in this world in a safe and supportive space. I am positive that I have given this far more thought than they, and that any gravitas I might impose on our “decision” to get Nerf guns would be pooh poohed by my kids. And come the summer months, I may find myself in need of my own Nerf weaponry, to participate in family battles outside.

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This post was last modified on February 26, 2023 11:46 pm

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