As it happens, I was in London last week, and I visited Hamley’s on Regent Street – the huge, multi-storey toy shop.  If one needed a reminder of just how shaken Britain has been by the Dunblane tragedy, there it was for all to see on the shelves of Hamley’s.

Or rather, there it wasn’t.  Amid the dolls and the teddy bears, the train sets and the Lego, there was a conspicuous absence.  There were no cap guns, no water pistols, no air rifles, no Nerf rocket launchers – nothing that even pretended to launch a projectile with deadly intent.

(Actually, that’s not quite true – there was a forlorn pile of laser-tag pistols, but they were selling for $160 a pair, and they didn’t look to be moving briskly.)

After Dunblane, the very thought of guns and children is enough to make Britain weep in anguish.  The result has been a sort of collective purge of even the symbolism of firearms.  The gun-as-plaything has become as odious as the gun-as-weapon, and any parent who buys his kid a Daisy air rifle is now instantly morally suspect.

Just to hammer that point home, the people of Dunblane have released a single for the Christmas season.  The musicians are local artists, with the exception of Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.  The tune is Bob Dylan’s haunting “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” with an extra verse added appealing for the abolition of handguns.  And the backing vocals are provided by children from the village – the brothers and sisters of those who were slain.

This is more than just a commemorative release.  In effect, it’s a heavy-rotation media campaign with a message, and the message is aimed at eradicating not just guns, but toy guns.  John Crozier, the father of five-year-old Emma who was killed in the massacre, has been forthright in his plea.  The hope, he says, is that parents will buy the record for their children as a Christmas present, rather than toy guns.

Just the idea of hearing the voices of those children is soul wrenching.  It’s impossible not to think of the voices that were stilled forever.  There may be those who’ll decry the song’s release as macabre, but surely that’s misguided.  Every time it plays, all but the heartless are going to stop and think – and isn’t that the point?

I’m less convinced, however, by the backlash against playthings with triggers.  That seems to me a panicked attempt to police the imaginations of children.  Are we now supposed to tell our kids they’re not allowed to pretend to be Beau Geste or Annie Oakley or Commander Whorff?  Has it come to this?  That the terrain of shame and recrimination is now the toy store?eg

  • CBC Radio December 5, 1996