Kids Handling SWAT Team Weapons Is No Big Deal

Parents in Santa Rosa, California are up in arms (pun intended) over photos of children at a police event during which they were allowed to handle SWAT team weapons. The photos, a bit unnerving, are causing many to complain. It's hard to see why they're so upset.

There is no doubt that if it were my child handling an automatic weapon -- even unloaded -- I would be uncomfortable. But I wouldn't be angry. The fact is, guns exist, police officers use them, and kids will probably see them at some point in their life. It's better to see them while the safest people in town are there. Yes, I would want to sign a permission slip and I'm not even sure I would say yes. But assuming these parents knew what was in store, I'm not seeing the problem.

And I say all this as someone who generally hates guns and thinks our culture is too gun-crazy. The officer said:

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Our goal is saying to people, "Hey, don't be intimidated by the police," we want to break down that barrier ... Once these events are over, people will be more comfortable having conversations with officers. Education and gun safety is a component of what we do ... We teach kids the difference between a real gun and a Toys R' Us gun.

Not everyone agreed. City councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre said she was "alarmed and devastated" by the photos.

I get the other side, of course. Not all the children are going to get the safety message and some are going to think, "Wow! Cool! Guns!" On the other hand, those kids were likely to think that anyway, whether officers showed them the weapons they use or not. It will not make these kids go out and use guns in a criminal way unless they were going to do so anyway.

I don't necessarily think this should be a regular occurrence for children to handle automatic weapons, but the fact is, these kids see movies. They see police officers. They have an idea that guns are "cool" just from movies they see. So why not demythologize these weapons a bit? Why not show them that "good guys" can use them in the right context? After all, by the time they're 18, they will have had enough media exposure to see them used in the "wrong" context 1,000 times more.

It's possible to handle an unloaded weapon and not become a gun freak. Besides, children who are exposed to guns in a safe context earlier are actually less likely to hurt one another with guns accidentally.

Do these photos bother you?


Image via roleATL/Flickr

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