Mexico Asks Kids to Give Up Toy Guns. Should We Do the Same?

The Mexican state of Nuevo Leon has launched a government initiative to counteract the nationwide epidemic of violence and organized crime. The new campaign isn't going after full-fledged gang-bangers however. Instead, it targets the state's more impressionable residents"”kids and teens.  

The violence prevention effort works like this: Youths are invited to turn in any toy guns they might have and in exchange receive more constructive playthings like soccer balls, basketballs, LEGO and more.

Already, it is being reported that kids are taking the government up on the offer. Not only are they handing over their fake firearms, children in Nuevo Leon have brought in knives, swords and even real guns as well"”which, naturally, officials are just as happy to take off their hands. 

In Mexico, children often learn about guns at an early age,

The program's concept is simple"”pretending to shoot people as a child promotes the desire to shoot people for real as an adult. This is especially true in Mexico, where poverty often leads kids to see gang and cartel membership as a lucrative career path. Moreover, violence has become a daily norm in many parts of the country, so the idea is to prevent the desensitization of children to fire arms early on, by introducing youngsters to peaceful games and activities instead. 

Unfortunately, it will probably take a lot more than a toy exchange to eradicate violence in Mexico, where criminal activity is merely the symptom of bigger problems like poverty and government corruption. In 2011, the Mexican town of Cuidad Juarez ran a similar guns-for-toys tradeoff, the impact of which proved underwhelming. Children in the crime-ridden region are reported to still happily carry out contract killings for as little as $37 per head. 

Roughly 50% of the Mexican population lives in poverty,

However, in more economically stable nation with a gun problem"”like, oh I don't know...the United States"”a campaign aimed at decreasing an affinity for firearms among kids could actually have a more significant impact. 

Right now, it is of course impossible to talk about the dangers of toy guns without mentioning the recent murder of Tamir Rice"”the 12-year-old was shot and killed in Cleveland last week by a police officer who allegedly mistook the boy's non-lethal pellet gun for a real firearm. However, the tragic incident isn't the main reason for my advocacy of toy gun removal. 

To say that had Tamir not been carrying a fake weapon he wouldn't have been shot puts too much blame on the victim. Unwarranted police brutality against members of the African American community is a symptom of racism, and as proven by recent events, rarely has anything to do with whether the victims were armed or not. This is a much broader issue and one in which toy guns simply aren't a factor.

And like in Mexico, gun violence in underprivileged communities in the U.S, in general, is rooted in economic hardship and shouldn't be perceived as a stand-alone issue. 

However, the U.S is unique in that it is a place where gun violence has now officially become a serious problem among fiscally stable sectors of the population as well. Even more disturbing is that the majority of high profile gun murders in these places are also carried out by kids, teens, and young adults"”and the fact that they're never motivated by money or self-preservation. 

Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold grew up in a privileged Colorado suburb,

Since Columbine, there have been nearly 200 school and campus shootings. Since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, the U.S has seen an average of one school shooting per school week. 

These (often mass) murders are being carried out by kids who don't need money"”offenders actually often come from affluent families. They don't live in fear of being killed should they not fire first. Instead, they are drawn to gun violence for gun violence's sake. They are youths seeking retribution for their first world problems, or maybe acting out dark fantasies fueled by mental illness, or in some cases, just want to know what it feels like to shoot someone. Whatever the motivation may be, their actions are the result of America's desensitization to and glorification of firearms. 

Having no real-life exposure to guns and organized crime, your typical school shooters"”white, suburban males in their teens to early 20's"”are in fact familiar with weapons only on a play-pretend level prior to utilizing them against other people. Your typical school shooter will have only seen guns used in movies, violent video games and yes, on toy store shelves"”all of which celebrate firearms, but neglect to portray their real life consequences. 

It is this demographic that would benefit most from programs aimed at promoting gunplay alternatives during childhood. Should kids be encouraged to exchange their toy weapons (along with weapon-themed video games and DVDs) for educational toys, books or sports equipment, perhaps they will be equipped with more constructive, creative and non-violent means of channeling their aggression later in life. Perhaps by not playing with toy guns as children, they'll be less inclined to gravitate to the real thing when teenage angst sets in. 

Sadly, shooting one's eye out is no longer the main concern, MGM

Government officials in Mexico may be missing the mark in trying to solve their nation's gun-violence problem with gun-for-toys exchange programs, which in their case, is a superficial solution to a deep-seated issue. But at least they're trying, which is more than can be said about the utter lack of such preventative efforts in the U.S. 

Despite Mexico's many shortcomings in terms of elected leadership, they're definitely on to something in being proactive about the reduction of violent crime, and America needs to take note. Even if campaigns like Nuevo Leon's against toy guns might not be very effective south of the border, a place where gun violence is, in fact, an epidemic quite shallow in origin is one place where such an initiative could very well work.