What the 1980s Toy Industry Teaches the 2014 Gun Lobby


I was two years old in 1980, young enough to experience everything the Me Decade had to offer across the full spectrum of childhood – toddler to pre-teen. As a 36 year-old adult, I remain imprinted by the decade’s pop culture (punk, pop and yuppie), politics (regrettably, I voted for Reagan in the first grade mock election at Pilgrim Lutheran School) and material goods.

As pertains to the latter category, as someone who spanned the ages of two to 12 across the 1980s, I feel qualified to comment on the era’s unofficial status as the Golden Era of Toys. My younger sister and I pined for the first editions of many of the greats that live on today: Nintendo, My Little Pony, Transformers, Strawberry Shortcake and more. Toys R Us was the most magical land this side of Chuck E. Cheese, and it was possible to love Cabbage Patch Kids and Garbage Pail Kids at the same time without a hint of irony

It was also possible to get hurt. Before the 1990s phenomena of helicopter parenting emerged, leaving no edge unblunted for Little Johnny and Jane, the Slinkys were made of metal. Earnest efforts could be and were made by the mischievous to unwind and turn them into long, thin saws. Children across the nation pulled Big Wheel emergency breaks while riding downhill at top speed, sometimes producing a gnarly spin effect that just as often launched you into a hard surface. And the day wasn’t really complete until you’d given your sister vertigo from the comfort of the family hallway, atop the Sit ‘N Spin.

Of course we know what happened. Parents got tired of the same nausea, cuts and head injuries and complained to manufacturers. The toys became safer. Goodbye Big Wheel parking break, hello hard plastic Slinky. Not quite as fun as the former models, but the great thing about kids is that if you give them a year or two they become a new demographic. Generation X was full of goth ennui by the time it noticed its cousins no longer swallowed little green army men.

I’m using a juvenile parallel to make a larger point, but the comparison is no joke. If rules and regulations pertaining to the manufacture, sale and usage of toys can evolve in response to a threat to children, why as we so dangerously and resolutely opposed to following suit with guns? In 1992, toy versions became required to have an orange plug or be entirely brightly colored to signify them as such. But we continue to allow the real thing to kill and otherwise scar our youngest Americans.

By now we’ve all had time to absorb the story. A 9 year-old in pigtails accidentally kills her weapons instructor while wielding an Uzi at the appallingly named Arizona attraction, Bullets and Burgers. While this tragic vignette has grabbed a multitude of headlines, it is far from an unusual occurrence. According to a July 2013 New York Daily News report:

“In the almost seven months since Adam Lanza’s demented slaughter of 20 Sandy Hook Elementary first-graders and six adults, at least 40 more children age 12 and under have died from accidental shootings across the United States, according to data compiled by the Daily News.

Those numbers do not include children killed by adults. Add those tragedies in, and about 120 innocents ages 12 and under have been killed by guns since Newtown.”

Despite the proliferation of child psychological terror and death by the collective relaxing of gun limits (literal and culturally), it never seems to be enough to shake the zombified Second Amendment zealots out of their trance. And you can always count on the cynical, heartless and tone deaf NRA to know just what to say. In the aftermath of the Arizona tragedy, RT.com reports, “Powerful US gun lobby, National Rifle Association, took the opportunity to present on social media ways children can ‘have fun at the shooting range’ following the horrific accidental killing of a shooting instructor by a 9-year-old girl in Arizona.”

At some point, as the 80s evolved into the 1990s, parents, manufacturers and lawmakers came together to decide that the safety of our youngest citizens was worth supporting. That’s right. Business, Congress and people working together for a common cause, a just cause. Toys didn’t suddenly become the stuff of black market trade, and no one lost their Constitutional right to play. The materials ad features just changed a little bit. It was logical.

How did we get here? How did we get to fourth graders being taught to view the handling of a semiautomatic weapon and the consumption of a hamburger with equal casualness? We won’t let our grown children show up for job interviews without us, but we’ll let the babies wield Uzis? And before you Internet trolls start your work, advocating for everyday common sense such as keeping weapons of war from the arms of kids, is no threat to your freedom.

It’s broken. It’s sick. And for the sake of our children, the limitless reach of guns has got to stop.

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