My son’s AK-47
September 24, 2006
Call me a naïve idealist, but I prefer making love, not war. Killing people has always seemed rather barbaric, so violence is not condoned in the Andersen household. How ironic that our son now totes an AK-47 facsimile designed for shooting his closest friends.Tait, a testosterone-crazed 13-year-old, shares with millions of kids a fascination for the Air Soft craze, where armed commando fantasies are acted out in abandoned buildings, shooting parks, and now in the piñon/juniper woods of our backyard.Air Soft is Paintball without the mess. The guns fire lightweight plastic BBs that purportedly bounce harmlessly off clothing and protective face masks, allowing kids to experience the visceral thrill of sniping, stalking and shooting one another.The guns are not quite harmless. If a BB hits exposed skin at close range, blood can flow. Part of the thrill of the game is to feel and inflict pain. That’s how you know you’ve been hit and that you’ve paid the price of a mortal wound. “Ouch! I’m dead!”When Tait first announced his intention to purchase an Air Soft rifle, my wife the psychotherapist had a few cautions. “Is this how we want our sensitive Waldorf-schooled child to exhibit his transition into manhood? Couldn’t he find the same gratification in, say, mowing the lawn?”As a kid, my preferred weapons included a cap-firing Thompson submachine gun and a “Fanner 50” double-holster set by Mattel that fired Greenie Stickum Caps and spring-loaded plastic projectiles. As a boy, I derived great pleasure annihilating my younger brother Yosemite Sam-style, with both guns blazing. I never knew fratricide could be so much fun.My parents were peaceniks, and they viewed my errant preoccupation as a passing phase that hopefully would not culminate in a government-sponsored tour of Vietnam. They were right. When draft age came, I laid down my arms and protested the war.Given our peace-loving personas, my wife and I urged Tait to reconsider his passion for firepower. We suggested that the cherished sense of brotherhood we have tried to instill might be compromised by lining up his buddies in the crosshairs and squeezing off a round.Tait reasoned that Air Soft was no different from the fencing lessons we paid for at Waldorf, where swordplay is equated with an athleticism whose success is measured by skewering your opponent through the heart. “It’s like playing tag,” he shrugged. “What’s the big deal?”What really made us cave in was our cherry tree, the harvest from which was ravaged this summer by marauding magpies, those raucous, avaricious nest-robbers. After watching our cherries disappear down the gullets of these vociferous vultures, Air Soft suddenly gained a potential utilitarian function.Tait chose the AK-47 model because it “looks cool,” holds a couple of hundred rounds in the banana clip, and fires with a velocity that allows accuracy and the right amount of sting. After his first skirmish, Tait and his buddy returned effused, exhausted and battle scarred with tiny, red welts that closely resemble adolescent zits.His mother and I “processed” the experience with him, wary of signs of bloodlust and militarism. Seeing none, we now look upon his gunplay as a passing fancy that will hopefully disperse before he’s of military age for whichever “war de jour” plagues humanity.This percolates an idea. Let’s arm all soldiers with Air Soft weapons as a means of deciding global conflicts. The only problem I can see is that it would make war too much fun for soldiers and not deadly enough for world leaders. There is nothing like good, old-fashioned butchery to make war a proud and fulfilling legacy.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.