Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Licence teaches guns aren't toys

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Children must learn from an early age that guns should be used only in a safe and purposeful way. Photo / Getty Images
Children must learn from an early age that guns should be used only in a safe and purposeful way. Photo / Getty Images

At first reading, a story this week about kindergarten kids needing gun licences before they point sticks sounded like "PC gone mad" - to borrow a cliche from talkback radio.

In fact, there's nothing politically correct about what the principal at Stratford's Avon Kindergarten is doing - it's just common sense.

Lynsi Latham-Saunders introduced the licensing policy after she noticed some of her 3- to 5-year-olds picking up sticks and pointing them at the other children. So far, so normal. Kids will fashion play weapons out of whatever they can find.

It's nearly 20 years ago, but I still remember a hippie mum who lived in Wellington's Aro Valley. She was determined her children's psyches would not be constrained by patriarchal gender constructs (or whatever she was repeating from her wimmin's herstory course) and gave them gender-neutral toys and anatomically correct dolls in a "the world is one big melting pot" cafe au lait colour.

She was horrified when one of her gorgeous little boys picked up his approved doll, twisted round an arm, wrenched off one leg and used it to shoot every hippy in his sights. To her knowledge, he had never seen a violent cartoon or violence in real life, and she agonised over whether he was going to grow up to be a psychopath. (As it turned out, he didn't - I believe he's an extremely successful tax lawyer.)

So, kids will be kids. But Latham-Saunders decided her charges would grow up understanding that it's okay to use guns but that they must never be seen as playthings.

After all, as she points out, half the kids at the kindy come from farms where guns are a necessary tool. She feels they need to learn from a young age that the use of guns is fine, but only in a safe and purposeful way.

To get the gun licence, the children have to know that they must never point a gun at another person; they must always point the gun to the ground while moving round the kindergarten; and they can shoot at targets only after they have been clearly identified.

There are pictures of possums, deer and pigs taped up around the kindy on fences and trees. So far, 15 children have successfully applied for "gun" licences and none have been revoked. I understand there are other kindergartens and playcentres with this sort of policy, and I wholeheartedly endorse it.

Since 1979, one person has been killed about every nine months in a hunting accident. Other recreational pursuits have a higher accidental death rate but surely it makes sense to drill basic safety information into children as early as possible?

We teach them road sense; we teach them how to be safe around the house - what's wrong with teaching them guns are not toys, and never will be?

- Herald on Sunday

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