I clutch the stock tightly as I turn a corner and duck behind a wall. I wave my hand to motion at my partner to take the other side of the doorway. I place the rifle up to my chin and stare down the scope, waiting for an enemy to come into view. Suddenly, I see movement in doorway opposite us, so I turn to my partner: “Cover me,” I whisper as I crouch and begin my slow walk down the hallway. I duck to my left into a dark and empty room and train my sights on the open doorway. Almost immediately, I see the barrel of a sniper rifle appear, so I grasp the trigger in anticipation of my opponent’s next move. I see his forehead peak around the corner – a fatal mistake. As soon as I see the white of his eyes, my finger pulls the trigger and sends a bullet straight into his unprotected forehead.

“You’re dead!” I yell out as he reels from the impact of the blue dart. His allies now know our location, so that turns the hallway into a frenzy of flying bullets. I hide behind the wall as I hear the sound of the weapons releasing ammo in my direction. I whip around the corner and see the right side of another enemy perched against the doorway. I send two bullets his way and one of them hits its mark: straight in the chest. I then turn and…

Wait… Pause the scene. What is going on here?

I was fourteen years old and this was my favorite game to play: NERF wars.

Let me say that again: Nerf WARS.

The reality of the situation finally hits me, and it’s not as soft and colorful as a NERF dart.

I examine my “weapons closet” for the first time in a while, and I’m amazed at what I find: I have a giant sniper rifle with Mega bullets, a smaller sniper with a scope, a rifle that can become a pistol, two revolvers, and whole lot of magazines and ammo. I have a broad sword, a smaller, lighter sword, and a throwing axe as well. This collection pales in comparison to what my other friends have gathered over the years: I even know kids half my age who have already doubled my armory. If that doesn’t scare you, maybe you don’t see what is going on here. Allow me to explain it again:

We mass-produce toy guns and sell them to children. We mass-produce weapons of war and give them to kids as a game. We allow them to think that war, death, and guns are a reality to be celebrated, not one to be condemned and saddened by.

Do you get it yet?

Colorful, plastic guns fill the shelves in every major department store in America like a giant barracks. Young boys flock to this section, looking for the newest, most powerful weapon, and the most upgraded ammo. While grabbing a gun and using it against another human being is a matter of life and death in war-torn countries, we have turned it into fun entertainment for our eight year-olds to engage in. They “kill” each other and laugh about it afterwards. They brag about who can get the most headshots. They take pride in their ability to shoot another person with a gun.

Why are we so surprised when one of these kids takes a real gun and walks into a school with it?

I get it: NERF guns don’t kill people. Just because a kid uses a NERF gun does not mean he will become a murderer later on in life. I know many kids my age who have turned out just fine, even after spending hours of their lives on imaginary battlefields, hiding in trenches made out of pillows. I know there is most likely not a correlation between NERF shooters and school shooters, but I’m left wondering what affect it really has on children. I find it hard to believe that playing simulated war can be a good thing.

I know that Donald Trump was recently ridiculed for making similar suggestions about violent games and movies, claiming that the violence which children see may lead to more violent behaviors.[i] While I think he made the claim to distract from the issue of actual gun control, I must admit that I’m inclined to agree with him on this one. War and violence are placed on screens all over the country for our entertainment, and NERF guns allow kids to act these out in their own homes. Our culture has done nothing to discourage the use of guns, as media and corporations promote guns every single chance they get. It is a love affair with weapons which has normalized the existence of guns so that even our children are told that they need them as toys.

While I agree that gun regulation is absolutely necessary, our culture can certainly help the cause by not glorifying these weapons of war.

My dad asked me a few months ago if I would want to go to the shooting range with him and shoot his pistol. At the time, I was willing to do so: what harm could it bring? My fifteen year-old brother, on the other hand, refused to accept his request. He told me that he could never hold an actual gun in his hand because he didn’t want to have anything to do with the violence that came with it. I think I understand him now.

It has been amazing to see kids the same age as my brother take a stand in a similar way on a national stage. I have watched thousands of Americans willingly give up their guns, some by destroying them, in response to what happened in Parkland. In watching all of these events unfold – the courage of these kids, the speeches, and the response from people and corporations like Dick’s Sporting Goods – I have asked myself what I can do. I cannot sit idly by while kids nearly my age face jeers and hostility while they promote their beliefs.

My first step is to be like my brother: I commit myself to never shooting an actual gun, even if it is only at the shooting range. I refuse to normalize violence by turning it into a sport and I refuse to take part in a culture which does that.

My second step will be to get rid of all my NERF guns. I apologize to my siblings for teaching them that shooting a gun, even a toy gun, at another human being is okay. I apologize for owning these weapons and taking part in the normalization of war and guns. I have shot guns in my home, in my neighborhood, and in my church, and I am deeply sorry for the affect that it has had on those watching. I am sorry for all the times when my actions showed that it was okay to make light of killing another person.

I understand that NERF guns don’t kill people, but they allow for the popularization of it. I understand that getting rid of NERF guns doesn’t solve the problem, but I believe it’s a step in the right direction. There are still plenty of violent video games which popularize war to an even greater extent, and I do believe that those must change as well, but this is where I will start. I want to create a culture where violence is not normal, killing is not celebrated, and guns are not toys. This starts in my home.

I’m throwing out all of my NERF guns. Will you join me?

[i] https://nypost.com/2018/03/01/trump-to-discuss-violent-video-games-with-execs/