Playing with Guns

By David Wantz, Assoc. V.P., Corporate & Community Relations, University of Indianapolis

David Wantz

David Wantz

My dad should not play with guns.

Some folks play with guns. My dad isn’t one of them.

When his brother Russ came back from Europe after surviving the D-Day invasion, he gave my dad a small automatic pistol. In his attic bedroom one day, Dad was “just cleaning it” when it went off. Don’t all these things happen when folks are just cleaning a gun?

“We will be playing with a lot of things at this year’s S&P Festival. But not with guns. You may safely join us November 2-11, 2012 for this year’s theme; PLAY.”

The bullet zipped through the floorboard and nailed a photo of my Aunt Helen. Had he been cleaning in another direction, the round would have likely hit my grandparents. My grandfather asked him to put the gun away and never to play with it again. He never did.

A serial entrepreneur, my dad owned a police supply company in Baltimore. During the tumultuous 1960s he made a lot of money selling riot batons, handcuffs, and helmets. On Saturday mornings, watching cartoons, my sister Robin and I ate our cereal sitting on crates of tear gas.

Concerned that the equipment would end up in the wrong hands, my dad began to carry a revolver. An FBI friend taught him how to draw it by stepping to the side so his suit coat would drape open and make it easy to grab the gun. Dad played at that routine for hours so he could do it in a split second.

One evening as he and my mom came in the door and were hanging their coats in the closet, I said, “Draw!” In one fluid motion, he stepped sideways, drew the revolver, and fired.

The bullet screamed across the room missing my brother by about eight inches. It also missed the television set, an antique lamp, and everything else in the room. He ran over to check on my brother and to search for the errant round. We went outside and looked at all the cars to see if any had been shot. It turns out the bullet hit the corner, ricocheted, and buried itself in a wall stud.

Some folks play with guns. My dad is not one of them. He got rid of them all, including the war souvenir and the Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolver.

We will be playing with a lot of things at this year’s S&P Festival. But not with guns. You may safely join us November 2-11, 2012 for this year’s theme; PLAY. I am David Wantz and serve on the festival’s board of advisors.


One thought on “Playing with Guns

  1. This compelling story about real people is reassuring, since I know the parties involved and I respect the conclusions they drew from their dramatic experiences with guns. One of my former students, a lively and lovely boy, was killed by a junior-high peer who was playing with a gun. It is with gratitude that I view the no-guns plan for Spirit and Place, as I have been concerned about gun-play since my years of teaching at every elementary grade level. Over the years I have seen major changes in the focus on aggression in play.

    It is amazing how the fury of modern-day guns and violent play can transform a kid and a group. The cops ‘n robbers play of my childhood was of a different nature. Today children are exposed to violence in realistic, living color–not imaginary characters but vividly real human “heroes.” Imaginative play is the work of children; they need to explore the many roles they see around them. A major compelling force in the draw of play guns is that they empower those who feel small and powerless.

    It is also dramatic to watch the power of cooperation skills in the classroom and to see kids play together in creative ways so that EVERYONE WINS (book title). As a classroom teacher, instituting a no-gun-play rule, I had the help of such materials published by the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children). From them I gained strength and insights to dialogue with a few insistent parents who objected. For older kids, NAEYC offered resources on conflict resolution which undergirded my task of blending bright kids from several competing schools and differing ages into cooperative classrooms.

    The NAEYC book, WHO’S CALLING THE SHOTS, offers insights into the changing television and toy industry and their powerful influences. The difference in a child-made gun is contrasted with the realistic, single-purpose weapons of today. Sorting imagination from reality is a major developmental task. “Providing interesting materials for dramatic play is a key to helping children get beyond the narrow and limiting war play which can result from too many single-purpose toys and violent TV.” Changes in war toys reveals “a revolution which is marked by the channeling of children into imitating the violence that they have seen and the loss of children’s power to control their own play.” What kind of play engages the children of today?

    With our own children we did not buy play guns. It was the sixties and peace and love were at least in the national vocabulary. We didn’t ban war play, however. Our son could make satisfactory guns from small sticks or tubes (repurposing!)–enough to stand his ground with the neighbor boys. We made efforts to enrich play with a broad range of interesting materials and topics. He grew to become a Peace Corps volunteer and a peace-loving adult. His son played with home-made guns and was taught by that PCV son about every kind of fascinating weapon from across world history. Today he is a college grad with a vast knowledge of history, including the history of weaponry, that provided him knowledge of people and places.

    Hurray for the focus on play by Spirit and Place! If I have my way the friendly competition of a game of Jacks will be as violent as it gets–and the joy that remains with me for over a half-century will be shared by any kid of any age who asks me for a set of my beloved Jacks.

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