Dear Mr. Dad: My 8-year old boy loves to play soldiers with his friends using squirt guns. But I got a call from a mom saying that she wouldn’t let her son play with mine as long as we have guns in the house. I was speechless. Squirt guns? Really? What’s your take?

A: You may be speechless, but I’m outraged. How someone can put “guns in the house” and “squirt gun” in the same sentence is beyond me. I completely understand people’s worries about guns and violence, particularly in the aftermath of recent school shootings, but we’ve gone completely overboard—and I’m not just saying that because I’m a former Marine. Let me give you a few recent examples of well-meaning gun control run amok.

  • A 5-year old Pennsylvania girl was suspended for 10 days for posing a “terrorist threat.” Her crime? She and a friend were debating whether a princess bubble blower was better than a Hello Kitty bubble gun. Her sentence was later reduced to just two days.
  • In separate incidents, two 6-year olds in Maryland were suspended for pointing their fingers like guns during a recess game of cops and robbers.
  • A 26-year old father from Ontario, Canada was handcuffed, arrested, booked, and strip-searched after his 4-year old drew a picture of him with a gun. Her explanation? Daddy was “getting bad guys and monsters.”
  • A 7-year-old boy was suspended for two days for brandishing a weapon at school. The weapon? A pastry that the boy had chewed into the shape of a gun. And the fact that he said “bang, bang” was interpreted by the school as “a threat to other students.”
  • A school principal decided that a 9-year old boy’s birthday cupcakes that had little green Army men on top were “inappropriate.” So she instructed school staff to capture the plastic soldiers before they had a chance to attack the unsuspecting 3rd graders. The principal even went so far as to call the parents and lecture them for being insensitive after the Newtown school shooting. Most parents were outraged by her decision. But she stuck to her guns (so to speak) and issued a statement saying, in part, that, “In the climate of recent events in schools we walk a delicate balance in teaching non-violence in our buildings and trying to ensure a safe, peaceful atmosphere.” Okay, but what does that have to do with cupcakes?

This whole thing reminds me of the debates about sex ed in schools. The truth is that simply telling kids to be abstinent has done little or nothing to curb teen pregnancy or STDs. Good safe-sex educational programs, on the other hand, have been very successful on both counts. Similarly, the kind of anti-gun hysteria that we’re seeing lately will do absolutely nothing to curb gun violence, largely because plastic soldiers, pastries, and bubble guns are hardly a threat. Pencils—and crayons, for that matter—can do a whole lot more damage. Plus, they look more like weapons. Are we ready to outlaw them?

I have at least a dozen different shooting toys (Nerf guns, bows and arrows, paintball, and gel pellets) that my 10-year old daughter and I fire either inside the house or in a nearby empty lot. And I’m not worried about her in the slightest. In fact, I’m quite proud of the fact that, besides being a really good shot, she knows a ton about proper gun etiquette and safety. And that’s exactly what all our kids should be learning.