Boys must be boys (Nichols)

In Delaware during the early 1960s, it was commonplace for boys to "play army." The most popular TV show was Combat and every young neighborhood boy (sorry, no girls allowed) owned replica toy guns. Two teams engaged in mock warfare with no real deaths, although everyone died faux deaths hundreds of times. The last soldier standing was declared victor for his team.

The battles continued to the end or until moms called the combatants home for dinner. No one was overweight because this type of play required fitness, fueled by increasing levels of testosterone. No boy understood why he engaged in this aggressive play or cared to understand the reason most girls preferred to play with dolls.

If an arbitrarily determined number of boys was unavailable for active warfare, small toy soldiers served as the substitute for the lack of able-bodied "men." Tiny grey colored warriors identified the German army, with an olive drab color for the American G.I. The field was set and battle ensued, with plastic rounds fired by spring-loaded artillery toward the enemy. Victory resulted when no opposition soldier remained standing.

Slingshots and BB guns replaced toy guns and miniature soldiers as the boys got older. Now it was possible to put into practice the lessons learned during earlier play, which set limits for behavior and established rules for fairness. The very real consequences of your decisions now became apparent. Adults declared songbirds off-limits, although a reduction in the population of annoying and invasive English Sparrows and Starlings was encouraged.

Many of these young boys continued their firearm education and hunting activities when a .22-caliber rifle or single-shot shotgun appeared as a gift under the Christmas tree. This gift represented a rite of passage toward manhood, never taken lightly. It demonstrated the boy, who was soon to be a man, was required to make responsible adult-like decisions.

During high school, many boys carried shotguns and rifles in the trunks of their cars or in racks in the back window of their trucks. This was usually evidence they had awakened before dawn to go hunting before school as the afternoon was reserved for sports. This does not mean that occasional age-related status offenses did not occur, but this was the exception, not the rule.

These slow and gradual moves toward adulthood are mostly gone, and some view these traditional male activities with disdain, if not outright contempt. Critics of this type of boyhood define it as "toxic masculinity" and evidence of "male patriarchy," which does not allow for "gender fluidity." These demands for non-specific gender roles rip boys from their solid mooring and help create confusion, which manifests itself in all manner of dysfunctional behavior, including mass murder.

New gun laws will not change outcomes. A small step toward positive change is to acknowledge the critical role testosterone plays in male development and to encourage aggressive play in boys. To discourage this is at society's peril.

However, this is not a cure-all for the moral decay evidenced in Delaware and across America. Understanding the difference between good and evil must be taught. The breakdown of the family, the illegal drug culture, poverty, a failed educational system, and the lack of moral precepts all play a role in creation of societal problems.

The good news is that encouraging boys to be boys will help them become responsible men. A generation of male baby-boomers, most of whom did not grow up to be mass murderers, is more than sufficient evidence that a return to past values can help solve the social problems of today and tomorrow.

John A. Nichols
Middletown

The path forward: Mass shootings are in large part attributable to deeper social problems, which would not be addressed by any of the "solutions" being proposed - more stringent gun controls, arming teachers, security checkpoints at school entrances, preemptive investigation of people with "mental problems," etc. It's time to reflect on the root causes of what has been going on and react more constructively.
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