Treating Guns Realistically in Children’s Literature

While volunteering for the Tallahassee Writers Association at Downtown Marketplace, an older woman picked up a copy of my book A Warrior’s Soul. My quick summary emphasizes that the story is about school violence and self defense. 

“Does it have guns?” she asked. 
I hesitated–it’s the first time someone had asked that question–but answered “yes.” She immediately put the book down and walked on. 
I was disappointed in her reaction, and it had nothing to do with the lost sale. Like most authors, I write stories that I believe are authentic. A Warrior’s Soul and Renegade are contemporary stories dealing with school violence. The deal realistically with the current problem and the brutal nature of bullying and violence. How can I not have a story that also involves guns?
The real issue should be how are guns treated in the story, and what purpose they serve to the plot. To avoid a role for guns, or other weapons, in a story of violence detracts from the power and realism of the story. Indeed, my experience with teenage readers is that they connect to the stories because they are real, not sanitized parent preferred versions of their world.
The gun serves as a powerful plot driver in A Warrior’s Soul, but it is never glorified. The story direct addresses the mystical allure of guns as a way to even the odds against more powerful enemies. And this is true. Guns are the Great Equalizers. It’s one reason why more and more women buy guns for self-defense.
But guns in the hands of an untrained and inexperienced user–Luke, Lucy, Chuck, Dirk, and the other kids in A Warrior’s Soul–represent a toxic and potentially lethal mix. The plot doesn’t shy away from the potentially tragic consequences of their use in the wrong hands. 
While some, apparently like the woman at Downtown Marketplace, may believe that we should purge contemporary stories for children and young adults of guns, I believe we need plots and characters that see them realistically. Guns are ubiquitous in our society–in film, in our homes, and on the nightly news. Denying this social reality puts our children at greater risk, not less. 
Guns are tools–adult tools–whether they are used for hunting, sport, or self defense. Our children need to understand their power and the circumstances in which they are used appropriately and inappropriately. In A Warrior’s Soul, their use is inappropriate, and the consequences of their use are potentially devastating because of poor decisions made by different characters. This, in fact, is one of the lessons from their story (and a subject of the discussion questions listed at the end of the book). 
Guns are not evil. They are not good. They are tools that can be used appropriately or inappropriately, depending on the circumstances, motives, training, and judgement of their human owners.
Shouldn’t we have more stories like this? Perhaps our children would have a healthier respect for guns as well as each other if they did.
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