I joined the World Cup prediction Game in my workplace, just to be polite. Actually, that’s a lie. I joined the sweepstake because I was coerced into it – all in the name of harmony in the office, allegedly. How buying into a tournament run by a corrupt organisation and featuring overpaid hairdresser’s models who fall over at the slightest provocation is good for company morale completely escapes me, but it would appear that I am nothing if not a corporate stooge.

As it stands, I’m losing quite badly and have no chance of winning the £22.95 prize pot – unsurprising really, given that I just typed in random numbers between one and nine for every possible score. yet, as much as the whole World Cup circus baffles me, and as much as I wonder if people realise how much good even 0.01 per cent of the England budget would do for overlooked sports like shooting, I know that it brings people a lot of pleasure and therefore I don’t go around pontificating about its evils. Not often, anyway.

My philosophy, most of the time, is that it’s difficult enough being human without people giving you grief about harmless fun. And just to be clear, by harmless fun in a football context I mean watching a game with friends, not drunkenly smashing up a stadium after your team’s just crashed out of the league. or because your team’s just gotten into the league… It’s all very confusing. one of the things that does definitely fall into my ‘harmless fun’ category is children playing with toy guns.

I can absolutely see why people get squeamish about this but, as any parent that’s ever bought their child a science kit in the hope they’ll be the next Einstein knows, the little darlings really aren’t that suggestible. In addition, much like our wonderful vegan friends and their leather shoes, the people complaining about the evils of toy guns are often the ones who will quite happily plonk their kids down in front of a violent film, or a game like Fortnite (coincidentally a favoured pastime of the England players in Russia) to keep them quiet for a while. Yet complain they shall, and they had an excellent opportunity a few weeks ago when prince George was papped playing with a toy gun at a polo match. like any coverage of the royal family, the pictures were quickly reproduced in media all over the world, but this time the focus wasn’t on what Kate was wearing. Well, not totally. the headline from the Mirror pretty much sums it up: “Outrage as Prince George plays with toy gun and knife on family day out amid surge in violence.”

What the headline neatly avoids mentioning is that the gun and knife were part of a pretend policeman’s set designed specifically for children – who’ve been playing things like cops and robbers without incident for decades. As is becoming the norm, the article eschewed any actual form of journalism or intelligent commentary in favour of quoting what people said on social media. Cheap journalism at its finest.

My favourite tweet, which was widely quoted in most of the papers, was as follows: “Sad to see George playing with a gun when the whole country has a gun/knife crime situation. Maybe in training for killing wildlife in later years. thought he was a sensitive child. better if he was seen playing with a toy car or football. Sadly the royals will never change.” there is so much wrong here it’s almost difficult to know where to start. My favourite bit however is, without a doubt, ‘thought he was a sensitive child’. Prince George is four. Four. To suggest not only that he has a publicly discernible personality, but also that his actions have suddenly revealed this to be a mere façade – in a tone suggesting that the British taxpaying public have been deceived, no less – demonstrates a quite astonishing level of delusion.

Also, should he be sensitive to public sentiment, or to the realities of gun crime? As he’s too young to understand either how famous he is or what death really means, it’s probably a bit pointless to ask. the bit about the ‘gun/knife crime situation’ is so spurious as to almost not be worth commenting upon, but there is an important point here – if the media keep creating links between innocent games (and of course shooting sports) and the rise in gun crime, this will influence stupid people who can’t appreciate that banning one won’t stop the other. And stupid people have votes.

Finally in this fantastic triumvirate of idiocy is ‘Maybe in training for killing wildlife in later years’. Unfortunately this is just the kind of throwaway jibe that the media love to pick up on, as it gives them a choice to bring out the argument that field sports are just for psychopathic toffs. And, on cue, several of the articles casually mentioned the royal family’s love of hunting and shooting, as if that explained why the family allowed him the gun in the first place. Stupidity is catching.

Although all the news articles were simply taking advantage of a non-story to fill space, quite a few of them did at least also feature social media comments in favour of prince George’s right to have a toy gun. this tweet, for example, was quoted in Fox News: “Prince George sitting out in the sun playing with toy guns and water pistols like every other normal child in the world is not the problem, it’s the freaks who actually think it’s newsworthy enough to pass comment and who are dying to be offended by it who are the problem.” Well said!

The Independent, ever keen to pick at the carcass of a story for as long as possible, went one further and ran a piece exploring the issue. ‘Should children have toy guns? experts weigh in…’ started the headline. Much to my surprise given the Indy’s political bent, the scales tipped comprehensively in favour of toy guns, with quotes from parenting experts and child psychologists including the following: “As guns are a very real aspect of the world we live in today, whether the military, online gaming, movies or sport, I encourage parents to be part of their child’s exploration of guns. “Guns only become ‘bad’ when we give them that meaning. In doing so we introduce fear and control into our relationship with our children rather than focusing on connection and joy.”

Well. It would appear that I am useless at predictions of any kind, because I’d have put money on the piece being used as a way to condemn all uses of firearms, pretend or otherwise. It does beg the question, however – how can they do an objective assessment of this issue and yet be so biased when it comes to shooting sports? It would appear that, like football, journalism can also be a game of two halves. 


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