As the nation debates gun policy following the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., some parents are imposing a different kind of gun control in their own homes: They are taking away their children's toy guns.
One Chicago mother, Anupy Singla, had been wrestling for months with whether to keep the Nerf revolver-style blasters that her daughters, ages 7 and 10, enjoyed playing with, several times tossing them into the trash and then retrieving them.
Her indecision ended abruptly on Dec. 14, as she watched the coverage of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza killed 26 people and himself after fatally shooting his mother at home.
"It was just something that inside me really snapped," said Singla, 44, a cookbook author and food writer, and she threw the playthings away.
"It's me making a decision that this is not something that's right in our house," she said. "We don't believe in playing with something that represents something that could be potentially so dangerous."
Though experts say that simply playing with a toy gun doesn't mean a child will become violent, other families, too, were moved by tragedy to weed out their toy chests.
After the shootings, Eileen Zyko Wolter collected about a dozen toy guns that belong to her sons, ages 4 and 7, and stored them on a high closet shelf.
"I felt like they needed to understand that play guns could lead to real-life consequences," said Wolter, 41, of Summit, N.J., a blogger. "If you're aiming a play gun and shooting it, you're practicing shooting at people."
And in Decatur, Ga., Shun Melson, a wardrobe stylist, told her 7-year-old son about the killings when he got home that Friday, and posted a photo of his reaction to Twitter. "He said he was very sad and said he never wanted to see another gun and he threw it in the trash," Melson, 38, said of his toy gun.
For children, whose lives are largely governed by parents and teachers, toy guns are a symbol of power and control they may play with to express their desires, said Constance Katz, co-founder of the child and adolescent psychotherapy training program at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis & Psychology in New York. Toy guns are generally favored by boys, and wanting to play with one doesn't mean a child is or will be violent, she said.
"Playing with a toy gun is not necessarily a worrisome sign," Katz said. "The focus should not be on playing with guns, it should be on the total emotional life of the child."
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