A warning to kids, parents on the dangers of ‘Nerf Wars’

Published 9:44 am Thursday, April 6, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

It’s spring, and a young person’s fancy sometimes turns to … “Nerf Wars?”

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Yes, in what has become an odd rite of the season, teenagers ordinarily far past the point of playing with toys stock up on Nerf guns, hoard foam darts and plot elaborate strategies to “assassinate” their classmates in a game that unfortunately has gone out of control. Not content with hunting on foot around their neighborhoods, some teens don masks, hide in garages at night, perch on roofs and even enter homes. Some paint the typically neon-colored guns dark colors, making them hard to distinguish from other weapons at a distance.

And some, sadly, have taken to cars, cruising streets in search of their targets and giving chase when they find them.

That’s how Johnny Price, 18, and Jake Flynn, 17, of Lakeville, lost their lives in 2015. It’s how the car of an innocent driver and passenger were sent crashing into a power pole last year in New Hope, after a young Nerf War combatant ran his car through a stop sign. He got charged with two felonies. That particular game included 100 students and carried a $500 pot.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi decided to take action, after getting calls from parents at St. Paul’s Central High School. He learned of a mother who went to pick up her daughter from school only to have her car boxed in by young drivers on the hunt. Another parent sent Choi a snapshot of kids leaning out of a speeding car with nerf guns, attempting to “take out” a victim.

Before this year’s games begin in earnest, Choi hopes wise parents will heed his warning. The safety concerns are too great, both for students and unsuspecting adults who may react with force if they, say, find someone crouched in their garage at night.

“I think every parent should have an intentional conversation with their teen about expectations,” Choi said. “Ask to see the rules of the game. They can be elaborate and surprising.”

Choi is hoping a letter he has sent to schools in Ramsey County will be part of the arsenal school officials and parents can use in attempting to set some sensible boundaries, so teens can have their fun without endangering themselves or others.

Is this part of what a county attorney normally does? It is if the county attorney is smart about looking for ways to head off trouble. Nerf Wars have become so prevalent among high schoolers that other county attorneys and schools should take a cue from Choi and do more to help adolescents set up guardrails.

“I’m not saying they [teens] should not do it at all,” Choi said. “But be smart. Don’t shoot nerf guns out the window of a moving car. We just don’t want kids to get hurt or in trouble. It’s incumbent on adults, and anyone in a position of authority, to make sure they’re engaging with kids on activities like this.”

And now a word for the students: Perusing various Nerf Wars social-media accounts, it’s impressive to see the elaborate planning, strategy and rules you’ve employed to organize these games. Those are valuable skills. Now just add a few common-sense boundaries that will keep everyone safe and keep pesky adults from having to step in. Thanks.