Four-year-old preschooler Lucy Coup has already earned her own gun licence.
Like the other children at her Auckland kindergarten, and in childcare centres around New Zealand, the youngster hangs the laminated licence from a string around her neck when she plays with her toy gun – but she must shoot at the target.
"We don't shoot people, because it might hurt them," Lucy says firmly.
Instead of banning gun play, many early education centres are adopting a policy that sees children earn a "gun licence" once they brush up on the dangers.
In Wellington, Ngaio Kindergarten is among those who have adopted the practice.
Lucy's grandmother, Dorothy Coup, was confused when she heard that her grandchild was the bearer of a gun licence.
At first she thought Lucy must have picked up a discarded licence on the street – but when she was told her granddaughter had been given it at kindergarten, she thought it was a hoot.
"When she came home with her gun licence, I thought it was a very good compromise.
"If you've got little boys running around and shooting everyone and disturbing people's play ... then what a good idea."
The licences were introduced at Te Atatu Village Kindergarten last month, after a group of rowdy boys pretended to shoot all the other children with their fingers.
Early childhood teacher Louise Samuels said teachers decided to contain the gun play, making sure children understood the real-life implications of guns and putting strict rules in place.
"What I noticed in my other workplace, when we banned it, was that the children would hide and shoot you – they get sneaky about it. The play would turn quite negative.
"We teach them you don't leave [guns] lying on the floor, you don't shoot people, you make sure you ask to borrow someone else's gun."
If a child "pretend" shoots another child, they have their gun licence revoked.
All the guns are made by the children out of paper or cardboard, and must be stored in a gun rack between play sessions.
Lucy's mum, Jules Coup, said it was good to teach children about the rights and wrongs, especially young boys, who would "make a gun out of a Marmite crust" if they could.
"It has not been a negative thing in any way. I think the teachers have been incredibly clever in the way they have handled it.
"When Lucy came home with her gun licence we all thought it was a bit of a joke, she gave it a go but found out it wasn't really for her."
Central North Island Kindergarten Association general manager Jan Ballantyne said labelling gun play as "bad" and banning it sent a mixed message to children whose fathers were hunters, farmers or in the armed services.
"For us to be making value judgments like that is quite wrong, but children need to know that there are rules. It's important for children to know, yes, there are guns, they can kill, and there are rules around that."
The Wellington Kindergarten Association said it was aware of some kindergartens in the area introducing the policy.
Ngaio Kindergarten head teacher Rebecca Cross said that, in the 18 months since gun licences had been introduced, they had made a positive impact.
"Children will always make guns, whether it's in front of you or behind your back, so we thought it was better to teach them about safety."
- © Fairfax NZ News