A riddle: What’s the difference between a Nerf gun and a gun that fires bullets that can injure or kill? The answer is none if you’re the professor at Missouri State University who ordered a lockdown of his classroom and called 911 after he saw one of the brightly-colored toys and assumed it was a “real” gun. (Yes, we are acquainted with modified Nerf guns, which are made to resemble actual assault weapons, but the students on campus are forbidden to paint their guns.)
The fact that the gun sighting occurred during the school’s weeklong “Humans vs. Zombies” game, played every October, might have also signaled that the weapon was fake, but that hasn’t stopped university officials from discussing whether to limit or ban the use of Nerf guns in the future.
The Springfield News Leader writes that some 500 people took part in this year’s contest, in which players try to tag others, who then become zombies. The humans then defend themselves by “stunning” the zombies with Nerf guns or balled-up socks. There is no word yet on whether the school is considering banning socks.
The game, which is played outdoors, goes on all hours of the day. Chad Holmes, faculty adviser for Live Action Society, an organization that organizes the game, said participants are required to sign safety waivers and are not allowed to alter the color of their Nerf guns, which are usually orange or lime green. Holmes acknowledged that the game can “look suspicious” and suggested that a campus-wide email be sent out in advance to reduce the number of concerned callers.
MSU is not the first institution of higher learning to consider banning the toy guns. Several other colleges have already done so. Don Clark, director of the university’s Department of Safety and Transportation, told the paper, “That’s probably an option that we’ll discuss. I wouldn’t say that’s where we want to end up.” He added, “The biggest solution to that is just awareness.”
The Live Action Society, meanwhile, is already making plans for its spring game for which it is hoping to recruit 1,000 participants.
“We might actually come out of it with some solid precedence of protection for Nerf guns,” said Holmes. “That’s my hope.”