On my 11th birthday, my parents made a serious error in judgment and presented me with a BB gun.
"Don't ever aim this at anyone," my father said.
"Absolutely not," I said.
"This could shoot somebody's eye out!" my mother said.
"You can count on me," I said.
Then I grabbed my new rifle and ran happily into the woods and promptly shot at Timmy Cameron.
I didn't shoot at his eyes -- he had these close-set, beady eyes that were hard to hit, anyway. But I shot at his chest. Then he shot at me with his BB gun. We spent the rest of the afternoon shooting at each other.
It wasn't exactly the FBI sniper range at Quantico, Va., though. We only hit each other a couple of times. And it didn't really hurt. These guns had all the firepower of a rubber band and a paper clip.
The point is, it was a different world back then. Every boy on my block was armed. Daisy air rifles were the weapon of choice. And of course you didn't listen to your parents and all this gloom and doom about losing an eye.
What was a little cornea surgery when you were having this kind of fun?
Besides, it wasn't as if half the neighborhood was walking around with black eye patches, or canes and Seeing Eye dogs.
These days, of course, you can't buy BB guns for kids anymore.
In certain neighborhoods, if you ask a kid if he wants a BB gun, he'll say: "I was thinking of something along the lines of a Glock 9 . . ."
In any event, like many parents, we don't allow BB guns in our house.
A bow and arrows, though, that's a different story.
The bow and arrow set was a present from my goofy brother and his wife.
It came with a big stand-alone target. And the arrows weren't very sharp. So we let the kid keep the set, with the provision that he shoot in the backyard far away from the house. In the next area code, preferably.
"Don't ever aim this at anyone," I told him.
"Absolutely not," he said.
"This could shoot somebody's eye out!" my wife said.
"You can count on me," he said.
Naturally, I didn't believe a word he was saying. He said it so calmly and looked us in the eye with such conviction that I knew he was lying.
But what can you do? I walked away, praying that when he did wing someone, it would just be a flesh wound.
But a funny thing has been happening: He hasn't abused his new present once.
Not once has he shot at his little brother or sister. Or at the dog. Or even at the hanging bird feeder.
Instead, the only thing he shoots at is this goofy target. I don't get it. What kind of fun can you have shooting at a target?
Where's the enjoyment in hitting something that doesn't howl in pain?
"There's something weird about that kid," I told my wife.
"Remember the dart gun?" she said.
Yeah, the dart gun. A few years ago, one of his friends gave him a toy dart gun for his birthday.
The gun shot those little plastic darts with the rubber suction cup tips.
This I recognized as big trouble for two reasons.
No. 1, there is nothing in the world quite as satisfying as shooting someone in the forehead and seeing the dart's suction cup stick there with a loud thwack!
And No. 2, once you get bored seeing the darts stick to someone's forehead, you just take the rubber suction cups off and your toy becomes the equivalent of a zip gun.
Suddenly, that little four-inch piece of plastic becomes a deadly missile. A well-placed shot to the calf can drop a 7-year-old at 10 yards.
Anyway, as my son unwrapped the dart gun on his birthday, my wife and I launched into our prepared text.
"Don't ever aim this at anyone," I said.
"No way," he said.
"This could shoot somebody's eye out!" his mother said.
"You can count on me," he said.
Then the eeriest thing happened. Instead of picking off the first person he saw, he went in the family room and began shooting at the little paper target that came with the gun.
Day after day, that's all he did, shoot at the paper target.
Even when his little sister was annoying him, he didn't once try to nail her in the forehead.
"What kind of kid doesn't shoot his sister?" I said to my wife.
I don't know. It's a different world today, I'll tell you that.