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Just last night some parents asked me my opinion of toy guns.

I wish we lived in a non-violent world. I wish humankind had evolved to a peaceful place where we negotiated all disputes instead of going to war, used our brains not our brawn (and those extensions of brawn, the weapons we have invented) to solve problems between people and nations, and each of us had enough empathy so we would not hurt anyone because we would not wish to be so hurt ourselves.

But we are a long way from my Utopian vision of how the world should work. And more, not less, violence as well as more senseless violence plagues us.

And, alas, more guns than ever are being bought although there is compelling evidence that guns in the home are dangerous for children and other living things. There is a real price to pay for gun possession. My own research showed that as the number of guns in a community increases, the number of gun accidents involving children also rises. There is a five-fold increase in the risk of suicide if you live in a home with guns.

Unfortunately, even if you forbid a child access to toy guns, many young children will go through a stage where they point their finger and say, “Bang! Bang! You’re dead!” A young boy who was not allowed access to toy guns was seen biting his toast into the shape of a gun!

However, I do have a strong opinion about toy guns and other war toys because of the message we give to our children when we buy them.

First of all, REAL GUNS DO NOT BELONG IN HOMES! Guns used to be expensive and were designed and used only for hunting or target shooting. Today guns are plentiful, cheap, and designed to kill people; lots of people.

Sad fact # 1: Many homes with children have multiple semi-automatic weapons.

Sad fact # 2: Many homes with children lack adult supervision, especially after school, until the parents get home from work.

Parents cannot prevent their children from knowing about weapons, violence, and war. And, let’s face it, there is plenty of violence in the books your children might read including the Bible and fairy tales.

But parents can stick by their guns (pun intended) when it comes to war toys. Today’s kids have enough to play with without guns and violent computer games.

The Heins Practical Suggestions for parents concerned about guns and violence:

It is perfectly OK to tell your children you will not buy any toy guns or other war toys. Children can thrive without them. My impression is that thoughtful parents today are making a conscious effort to forbid toy guns and to preach against violence.

Don’t allow other children to bring guns into your house. Make a game as well as a values lesson out of this. Tell children who come to visit that they have to check guns at the door like the cowboys used to do in the Wild West. Point out that you don’t like guns because they hurt people.

Use your values about violent toys to teach children. Ask questions — and encourage questions like, “What does a gun do to people?”

Use every opportunity you have to interpret the world for your children in terms of your own anti-violent feelings. When your child sees or mentions violence, use the opportunity to say, “How would you feel if that happened to you?” or “Can you think of a better way to solve that argument?”

Provide your children with many play opportunities that are non-violent. Play can and should be constructive and creative. Buy building blocks and books, crayons and construction paper, hand puppets and puzzles.

Limit TV and, whenever possible, watch TV with your children so you can change channels and/or interpret what they see in terms of your family’s values.

Do not despair if your kids turn peaceful toys into war games or pretend toy truck are tanks. Such play does not mean aggressive or anti-social behavior in later years.

Do not worry about turning your child into a “sissy” if you forbid war toys. Personal courage in a child is much more related to strong feelings of autonomy and self-worth (“I can do it all by myself!”) than the presence of toy guns.