This last Eid, as I was walking through the dusty old alleys of Nazimabad 5-C – paying visits to age-old community members and families from the time of my grandfather’s era – I couldn’t help but notice one striking change in these slow-paced streets. It wasn’t the droning of generators in the occasional house or the new trend of lego-block flats towering over smaller housing plots.
It was a “click”; an insistent sound coupled with the voice of children.
Every corner I turned, I heard it one after the other – this clicking sound was occasionally followed by the complaint of a kid who had been 'hit'. In the short walks on these streets, I noticed more replica guns than I had seen in real, just about everywhere.
I could swear I saw every next kid on that street with a “charray” (pellet) pistol in his hand, firing away – click! click! click! As I dodged the occasional misfire, I was struck by this show of blatant disregard for life – a lack of compassion and empathy passed on from parent, teacher, society to child.
We, ourselves, are encouraging a gun culture around us. And yet, we complain about it with a staggering hypocrisy.
I cannot recall seeing such sophisticated toy guns before. It was one thing to play ‘cowboys and Indians’ with rainbow-coloured plastic toys or pump-action water guns. But these real-looking military-like guns in the hands of our children must not be taken lightly.
Earlier this year, two young boys were shot at (one of whom died) while taking a selfie with a toy gun by a trigger-happy police in Punjab. The bitter irony of this tragic incident epitomised a sickness that the closeness to guns can bring on a society.
The boys were fond of replica guns, the police mistook them for real ones and shot them (a reaction which may be unjustified even if the guns were real), in the process exposing their own tendency of firearm abuse.
What a cruel joke.
Another occasion our doomed proximity with weapons manifested itself in, was the move to allow teachers in K-P to carry firearms. It ultimately resulted in what many of us feared from the beginning: the accidental death of a schoolchild in Swat.
That is why I welcomed the resolution tabled in Sindh Assembly earlier this month, which sought to enforce a ban on toy guns. Lawmakers and civil society members have implemented or are seeking similar bans in Punjab and K-P.
One might chide these moves as irrelevant and useless to our very real terrorism problems, wrought with real guns. But, the fact is, we have now seen target killers emerge from even the more educated and affluent sections of our society, and that the 'real terrorism' is happening in the same streets that our kids play in.
The lines are further blurred thanks to the dark times we live in; when even the 'good side' is not seen without a huge cache of weapons of their own. That makes it all the more important to teach our kids that guns exist only as a necessary evil and are not a normal way of life. The culture of violence and aggression should not be glorified.
Otherwise, we are essentially desensitising the concept of death by firearm – making our children’s minds numb to the loss of life in a very subtle way.
Let us not be passive about this matter. Our kids should have a childhood that is violence-free – even in their make-believe worlds – so that they are allowed to grow up into peace-loving adults.