*I have three children. And in the middle of my two girls, I have a little boy … a 6-year-old son, to be exact.

For me, as an only child, all this stuff about siblings and playtime, sharing, fighting and little boys has been very eye-opening. I’ve always known that boys are great at creating “weapons” out of almost nothing. Sticks become cannons, pillows become bombs, and fingers, pens or anything else become guns. And even though I grew up with my share of Barbies and baby dolls, I knew a good water pistol when I saw one and had many a play battle with a Nerf gun.

But I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that many parents don’t allow their children to have play guns of any kind. While there may be pirate swords and nunchucks stashed in the toy box, plastic firearms are evidently banned. As a firearms instructor, I’ve actually had many serious conversations with people about whether or not to let kids play with toy guns.

What Research Says About Pretend Gun Play

Ultimately, some people believe that playing with toy guns will increase a child’s risk of becoming violent. But I disagree. I remember pretending I was SheRa or Evil-Lyn and annihilating Skelator or HeMan. It was all play; all pretend. And all the use of an active imagination. Honestly, it’s perfectly normal for kids to pretend to play with imaginary or fake weapons from time to time.

This pretend play isn’t just a normal part of growing up. Research suggests it may help kids manage real-life situations more appropriately and effectively and help them control violent impulses. As well, it’s important to note that “aggressive behavior in pretend play is different than actual aggressive behavior in real life,” states child psychologist Sandra Russ. So unless certain children have difficulty separating play from reality (or have impulse-control problems), most experts agree playing with toy guns is just fine.

Allowing the use of imaginary weapons in children’s play also offers an opportunity for important discussions. Rather than banning all pretend gun play, lean into the conversation. Ask your child questions about what he or she is playing. Then remind him or her about how to handle a situation involving a real firearm.

Now, clearly, with real firearms or real weapons of any kind in a household, we have to make a commitment to be safe and responsible and keep these items from any unauthorized users (especially children). And while my husband and I have chosen to expose our kids to gun safety and training and teach them the safety rules, we don’t get all bent out of shape when they play with lightsabers, phasers or foam swords. I guess you could say that we even add to their playtime weaponry fun.

Toy Guns Can Be Family Fun

For instance, we recently tried out some of the new Precision RBS launchers. These innovative, rubber band guns are like a cross between modern toy blasters and wooden rubber band launchers. And we had an absolute blast as a family with these clever gadgets. (The three-year-old needed help, but she loved chasing down the ammo!) Of course, my son noticed almost right away that the boy on the Talos packaging had his “finger on the trigger,” which he said was unsafe behavior, but other than that, the kids (and my husband and I) had a great time sending rubber bands flying toward the included cardboard targets … and, perhaps, at a few stuffed animals and action figures.

And while it may sound a bit trivial, Christmas is on its way, after all, so if you’re supportive of active play, you should check out the Talos, the Chiron or the Hyperion. Your child’s age and size (and whether you want a handgun-style or a long gun-style launcher) will help determine what blaster you select. But they’re all enjoyable! Talos, the smallest, holds up to 20 rubber bands in two sizes and launches up to 30 feet. The larger Chiron has storage for up to 100 rubber bands. And the Hyperion can hold three different band sizes and features a shotgun-like BURST feature that can launch 14 bands at once. All three Precision RBS toy guns are fairly accurate, well designed (with the force of the bands spinning the launch wheel, allowing rapid fire without batteries or priming) and lots of fun … without spending a fortune on ammo!

Final Thoughts

All in all, from the traditional foam-dart shooters to the new twist on rubber band launchers, pretend gun play is perfectly normal and might even make kids less violent. It can also be a fun activity for the family … for improving shooting accuracy while enforcing basic gun safety rules! Perhaps playing with toy weapons might even be something we can applaud. Just think about it: When our children are fighting “bad guys,” they’re most likely pretending to be good guys or even superheroes. And in my book, that’s not just OK; that’s uplifting and courageous.

*This post was originally published in 2016.