When I was a child I never played with toy guns, other than squirt guns, and those, by design, are intended to hit a target, preferably in the face. It was fun to run around with a squirt gun on the lawn on a hot summer day, all the kids fighting for space at the hose once we had unloaded our cargo. I never learned anything about real guns.Because my parents were not gun owners they thought that fact alone would prevent me from ever finding one.

This presented a dangerous problem, when at the age of five I found a real gun with my cousins while visiting our great-grandmother. Andy was five and a half, Kathy was seven. We had spent most of the day exploring the basement, making up scary stories about the furnace, looking in drawers and boxes, wanting to find something interesting. My entire extended family was there, at least thirty people. The three of us were all worked up and the screaming was getting to the grown-ups, so we were instructed to be quiet and find something else to do.

We quietly sneaked up the steps and into my Uncle Stosh’s room, and suddenly Kathy had his top drawer opened and, there under his underwear, a handgun, the first I had ever seen.

Kathy was mashing her hands together and had one eyebrow raised the way she was prone to do whenever something BIG was about to happen. Andy licked his lips. Our hearts were pounding, we were squealing as quietly as we could. We knew we would get in trouble for this if we were caught. Then Andy had it out of the drawer and we studied it, heads touching. When it was my turn to hold the gun I was surprised by the weight of it, almost dropped it. And then I did what I thought you were supposed to do with a gun, lifted it, pointed it at Andy and pulled the trigger.

I remember how his face twisted in fear and he began to cry. Fortunately the gun was not loaded (amazing, since Uncle Stosh usually WAS.) Then there was a lot of screaming and "NEVER NEVER NEVER point a real gun at someone! What if that was loaded! I am telling!!" I remember thinking, "Loaded? What does that mean?"

Until that moment I never really knew anything about guns, lacked even the most basic understanding. I could have shot my cousin in the face.

I am guessing my parents never talked to me about guns because we did not own any, which made it a non-issue. I am guessing they figured I would be too afraid to pick up a gun if I did come across one, that my first instinct would have been to go and get an adult, or that I would never dream of pointing it at anyone, let alone pulling the trigger. This assumption could have been fatal.

Personally, I think of a gun as a weapon and not a toy. Because I want that distinction to be very clear I do not buy toy guns for my children. That is a matter of personal choice.

I do not own a gun myself, but I can see the value in showing them a real gun, showing them how they are used, how they are not used and how to handle them. If nothing else they should know never to point one at someone else and to always assume the gun is loaded. Whether you own a gun or not, if you have children they need this information. You can not be everywhere they are. Even in a house full of grown-ups a few kids can find trouble. I could have killed someone when I was five, because I was totally ignorant about gun safety. That would have been tragic no matter what side of the argument you favor.