Toy guns and the four rules

Thought exercise: Should toy guns be subject to the four rules?

Obviously, this is a question that every gun owning parent will likely have to answer. The reason we’re asking it because there seems to be a hardline group of people who insist that toy guns in the hands of children should be treated exactly like real guns, no pointing them at anyone, etc. To me that seems stupid. I may not be a parent, I can actually remember when I was 8. I knew the difference between a toy gun and a real gun. Even at the tender age of 8 I knew that toy guns were TOYS and couldn’t kill anyone, but I knew that a real gun was 100% not to be screwed around with.

nerf revolver

Now, obviously I can understand not wanting your kid to play with realistic toys like airsoft until they’re older, but most kids will eventually reach an age where they can tell the difference between a toy gun and a real gun. At that juncture, let them play with toy guns and have fun. It’s kind of hard to have a proper nerf gun war if you’re not allowed to point guns at people.

Can you imagine that household? “Here little Timmy, I got you the new NerfBlaster 9000, but you’re only allowed to use it for target practice against your sister’s stuffed animals.” That kid is 100% guaranteed to be a serial killer now, way to repress him.

This post really boils down to opinion, and I’m curious to know what you think. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, we didn’t wear bike helmets everywhere and our parents didn’t hover over our every activity, so maybe my childhood was different. But I have to say, if you insist that your child follow the four rules with toy guns, you’re robbing them of one of the great joys of childhood, which is shooting other children with a toy. And I bet that if you don’t allow them to have toy guns at all, you’re boring. And likely a vegetarian.


  1. For now, we have tried to hold to the 4 rules for our kids, largely because our oldest is only 3 1/2. We’ve done that because he likes to turn anything he can into a gun, and we want to start him off with the proper safety mindset.

    As he gets older, and I pull out my Nerf guns more, we plan to relax the rules so he knows when it is OK to point a gun at someone and when he needs to not even touch a gun. We also reinforce to him that if he finds one of Daddy’s tools (whether it’s a tape measure, a saw, or a gun), he isn’t supposed to touch it or start playing with it. He needs to come ask Mommy or Daddy first. We’ve also given him a few of his own tools that he’s allowed to play with (but not his own gun yet).

    As he gets older, we’ll teach him more and more, and give him more and more freedom, but we want to control how much freedom he gets to match what he is ready for.

  2. I agree with the author on this one (like almost everything on this blog). Safety is important, but to not allow my sons the joy of blasting each other with nerf guns would be abhorrent and I would become as bad as the helicopter parents.

  3. With 3 boys and lots of (projectile) toys, I teach the difference between things that go ‘pffft’ and things that go ‘bang’. Toys are toys and we treat them as such (no head shots, don’t shoot mom, watch out for the TV). Guns are tools and we treat them as such (eyes & ears, only when daddy is there, repeat the 4 rules for me…).

  4. ok so my son is almost 4 now he has a few nerf toy guns. has of now he can not shoot the cats or dog and can not shoot any one in the face or people that are not playing . that said he also has a cricket .22 lr that we go out and shoot when i feel rich enuff to buy (and lucky enuff to find) some 22lr ammo…

  5. As I sat in my Garadge soldering a new end for my hose spigot (which should give you a fairly good idea about me and my thoughts on DIY) my first impression of this writing was “no s*it”…

    Then helicopter parent #1 walked by yelling at her old enough to know how to ride a bike son and daughter ( approx 10 and 13 respectively) to stop for every car that goes by(really????!!!). People on the cusp of driving themselves need training wheels, helmets and mommy???

    What I’m trying to illustrate here is sadly times seem to have changed and not everyone seems to grasp nerf are for fun and guns are TOOLS. And some parents need to learn to loosen up the reigns a bit.

  6. There is a problem here that no one has addressed. Kids get shot every year when they point a toy gun at someone with a real gun. You can’t see color in low light. People with guns may react to reasonable belief that the kid pointed a real gun at them and in that split second they believed they were under attack. The perception problem can be even more difficult when airsoft and BB guns are involved.

    1. I took as implicit that the topic was more or less “around the house” but that is a good thing to bring up. The “where we can play toy guns” boundaries.

    2. Aye. My boy is about to turn five. He has a couple of nerf guns he can do whatever with, but I got him a rubber band gun to teach him the four rules. It’s a great trainer for a few reasons:
      1) It really can and does have a variety of interesting malfunctions that result in him shooting himself in the face or foot with a rubber band when being careless about which way it’s pointed or keeping his finger off the trigger while loading
      2) It’s semi-automatic and therefore AWESOME, making the threat of taking it away sting a little
      3) It hurts a little when you get shot with it at close range

      Right now, his four rules are Be sure of your target and what’s around it, Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot, Always treat the gun as if it’s loaded, Don’t shoot your little sister.

      In my family, we go for walks at night through a nearby golf course (central Texas, the weather is nice at night). One night, he brings his rubber band gun, and I didn’t think much of it until he jumped out of his stroller and went running across the golf course toward someone’s house while waving his rubber band gun around (guess we need to go over the rules some more). That was a teachable moment for both of us.

  7. I brought nerf guns to highschool, dressed up in urban camo with paint ball guns and air pistols for halloween at school back in the 90s. no on cared. It was “Nick” doing his “Nick” thing. No one ever thought I might go crazy and shoot someone. This was in SoCal too. I was introduced to Korean made airsoft guns in my senior year. We ran around and shot each other after school, on campus. No eye protection. It was a blast.

  8. played cops and rob, cowboys and ind and war games as kid! never a problem! made a bow and arrow with stick and string like my pals got in arrow fight and arrow right between eyes still have scar!

  9. I apply only one rule to toy guns. Maintain trigger discipline, don’t put yout finger on the trigger until you know your target and are ready to shoot. Even if the target is Dad’s butt.

  10. I plan on taking the opportunity to teach trigger discipline and muzzle awareness, but nerf guns are made for shooting people…

  11. Cap guns, Cork guns, Plastic Ball shooters, all sorts of guns, no one ever got hurt and I don’t recall anyone making any statements, cept maybe don’t put anyone’s eye out. We even had Snowball fights, those were the dangerous ones, especially the ice balls (compressed as hard as can be), mud balls could really hurt too, because they would splat and flatten; didn’t do much mud ball battling. I am curious though, why is okay to shoot the stuffed animals? They’re like pets to young children; could be very psychologically terrifying . . . . .

  12. Guns are guns. Toys are toys. If your kid really can’t tell the difference, I submit that there are much larger issues to worry about.

  13. We have a rule about no guns until she can tell what is and isn’t a toy, so this hasn’t come up yet for me as a parent… but…

    I think it’s not entirely unreasonable to treat them like you’d do paintball guns. ie, follow the 4 rules, but other people who are playing the game count as “something you want to ‘destroy.'” So you’d better not point it at Mom if she isn’t playing, or at the dog, or at a vase… but blast your sister all you want as long as she’s blasting back (or better yet, take cover so she can’t return fire).

  14. My daughter has been shooting since she was four. She has also been playing with toy guns since about the same time. She’s almost nine — no problems yet.

    The basic rule about the toy guns is that there is a time and place for them – when no real guns are around, and teh area is safe (like the yard) – and when *everyone* involved (even targets) is a willing participant.

    She still does trigger finger indexing with Windex bottles. . . (sniff, so proud. . . )

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