I am a dyed in the wool pacifist and my children play with toy guns.
When I was a kid, my hippy lesbian parents (ok, my mother insists she was a beatnik, not a hippy, but hippy sounds better) took us to peace rallies and protest marches. We spent two years performing a peace musical at churches all over western New York. When I was 10, I crossed the line at an army base to give a long-stemmed rose to an MP who was holding a really big gun, then cried all the way home. I have pacifist cred coming out my ears.
My mother refused to let us play with sex-stereotyped toys. My brother had wooden elephants on wheels, not toy cars. I had stuffed animals, but not, Heaven Forfend, baby dolls. Giving a girl a baby doll was tantamount to ceding to the Republican Patriarchy, and it was not going to be done by my mother.
Apparently I wanted a baby doll so much, that I wrapped up a five pound bag of kitty litter with my blankie and sang to it and rocked it and loved that thing until my mother caught me. And my sweet, strong, feminist mother caved and said, "If she wants a baby doll that bad, she can have one."
From then on I had all the Barbies, baby dolls, and toy makeup kits that any daughter of the Republican Patriarchy could ever want, and my brother had guns, GI Joe, and Transformers. We both grew up to be non-gun-owning pacifists.
Remember that boy you weren't allowed to date in high school? Remember how well that worked out for your parents? I think if you banish something, you make it more enticing. If you allow a nerf gun to be one of a bunch of other toys, it loses its allure. But here's the kicker: know your kids. My kids cry when they see a dead animal, and can't believe army people shoot bad guys with real bullets, not just stun guns. They are inherently like me and I don't worry that exposing them to plastic guns or foam swords will turn them into crazed violent men. I know their souls and they are gentle. My ex-husband thinks I am a crazy, horrible mom to let them play with toy guns, but you know what? They aren't that excited about them. They only play guns when someone else is over. And they don't yearn for the gun on the toy shelf someone is refusing to buy them.
Here are my gun rules:
1. We don't buy any gun that is too realistic. I tell the kids that might scare someone.
2. We don't play guns with friends before discussing it with their parents.
3. We have targets for nerf and suction cup dart guns. You may not shoot a person, pet, or stuffed animal with a projectile, even a non-firing gun that goes "pew-pew-pew." You may shoot invisible bad guys or killer attack shuddery to your hearts content.
4. We do not have real guns in the house.
5. No violent shows, including the news are allowed when the boys are awake.
6. No violent video games ever.
But there's something else missing from the toy gun debate. My kids idolize police officers and our military. They want guns in order to emulate real American heroes, and I would much rather they look up to someone who really does fight bad guys than to look up to football players or comic book super heroes. If they want a plastic gun to go with their plastic badge, that's fine by me.