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Idaho lawmaker's children's books on AR-15s and feminism have some raising a red flag

Sydney Kidd - January 30, 2023

In bookstores and online, there are myriad children’s books with a variety of different purposes. Some are written to entertain kids with fanciful stories of adventure. Others teach children their ABCs and address learning manners in fun, accessible ways.

One Idaho lawmaker has taken to children’s books to address topics like AR-15s and feminism and has caused some people to raise an eyebrow.

The books — “Why Everyone Needs an AR-15: A Guide for Kids” and “Why is Feminism So Silly: A Guide for Kids” — were written in 2018 by Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa. They are available for purchase on Amazon and each have a 3.5 star rating.

Lenney is a first-year lawmaker and self-described “political refugee” from California who moved to Idaho in 2010. He thinks while Idaho is a “red” state, it is not a conservative state, according to his website.

When contacted by the Idaho Press for an interview about these books, Lenney responded, “No thanks.”

Lenney’s AR-15 book gets right to the point.

“One of the most popular gun choices in America is the AR-15.”

The rest of the book’s pages discuss the difference between the semi-automatic AR-15 and a fully-automatic M16, how easy it is to shoot, the importance of adult supervision when shooting an AR-15 and the difference between good guys and bad guys.

The description for the book reads: “In this super fun book for kids, we’ll walk you through how awesome the AR-15 is, how it can be used for good, and why the Gun Grabbing Lefties should focus on something more productive.”

Nathan Guy, owner of Faith Outdoors, a gun shop in Nampa, said he enjoyed reading the book and how it talked about “the education and the joys of owning an AR-15.” He said it also teaches about good, legal gun ownership.

But not everyone is convinced that this book is appropriate for children.

Former senator Patti Anne Lodge, an outspoken gun owner and former school librarian of 35 years, said she would not carry either of Lenney’s books in her libraries.

“It was written as a kid’s book, but actually it’s for adults I think,” Lodge said. “I just think you have to be very careful in what you put into the minds of young children. And these books were written as cartoons or information for older people.”

One of Lodge’s biggest concerns with the book, which she said does have good facts in it, is how AR-15s are presented. In the book, Lenney talks about how AR-15s can come in any color that you want, that they are fun because of how customizable they are. He uses the phrase “it’s like a LEGO toy for adults!”

“I’m going ‘Gosh, the way these little kids love Legos and put things together, they would think it was a toy,’” Lodge said.

And that is exactly what Dr. Jamie Derrick, professor of psychology and communication at the University of Idaho, thinks is the biggest takeaway for kids out of this book.

“They make it seem like it’s a toy, and it’s fun, and it’s colorful,” Derrick said. “A child developmentally will not be able to understand that as an analogy, because that’s the place where they’re not cognitively capable of pulling that information out.”

Guy said the term “adult Legos” is an industry standard term that he uses almost daily in his shop. He said that building guns with his children has taught them knowledge, respect and understanding of the firearm.

Even so, Derrick said the “Lego” messaging comes across differently to young children who are still developing critical thinking skills. She said that while the book mentions being safe with guns, it is not a book about gun safety.

“Just in terms of the amount of content that’s dedicated to being safe versus kind of framing them as colorful and toy-like, it’s not a strong message,” Derrick said. “Just in terms of the number of words dedicated to it. So I don’t know. And as a child, which message are you going to be more likely to pick up on and integrate? It’s not a book about safety. … It’s a book about how interesting and fun these weapons are.”

By contrast, the children’s book “Daddy’s Gun,” written by a company called Redneck Rifle Hangers, focuses solely on gun safety for children. The message “don’t touch!” is repeated on multiple pages and it focuses heavily on not pointing guns at people and that guns aren’t toys.

Guy said he saw real value in this book, and enjoyed reading it.

“I think this book was directed more at kids that have not been around guns, have not received firearm safety classes, and most likely do not understand the power of a gun as most young kids have been desensitized to true firearm safety from video games and Hollywood,” Guy said.

And Derrick said it’s not bad to give kids books that follow their curiosities, parents just have to be mindful about the way the content is presented.

“Certain kids are kind of cognitively capable of starting to think about topics like this as early as elementary school. But the type of information that is provided to them has to be sort of screened because they’re cognitively still learning how to process and integrate information into their worldview,” Derrick said. “I always follow children’s curiosity, like some kids aren’t going to give a hoot about firearms, and some are going to be fascinated.”

Derrick described the book “Why is Feminism So Silly: A Guide for Kids” as being riddled with misinformation.

The book starts out by saying feminism is something only a few people in the world believe in. But according to Pew Research, 61% of American women view themselves as feminists and 6 in 10 men say they view feminism as empowering.

It states that working women make the same amount of money as working men do; however, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Census Bureau both report the contrary.

As reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, although the gender pay gap has narrowed since the signing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I can’t think of a developmentally appropriate reason for giving children misinformation. We may not give them all information, but that’s different,” Derrick said.

The book also states that feminists believe a secret group called the patriarchy is lurking around every corner and that they believe there are no differences between women and men. In the book, Lenney writes that feminism hasn’t been needed in the U.S. since women were granted the right to vote “a loooooooong time ago.”

But since gaining that right in 1920, women have fought for equal pay, fought against discrimination on the basis of sex in the workplace, fought for equal education opportunity through Title IX, worked for the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, and gained the right to open a bank account.

In addition to talking about how women can be police officers, astronauts, and engineers, the book mentions how there’s nothing more awesome than coming home to a delicious dinner, how some women like making sandwiches and that there have been lots of women in the White House — “America has had over 45 First Ladies.”

“I don’t see intrinsic value in today’s world with that book,” Lodge said. “They’re not children’s books — that’s from a 35-year librarian.”

The book repeatedly asserts “that’s silly!” in response to things that Lenney says feminists believe or are upset about.

“If we present one group as right and one group as wrong, on any topic, then we don’t open ourselves to understanding what the people who disagree with us might have to say that’s valid,” Derrick said. “I’m not a big fan of ‘othering’ really, and I just think it creates the possibility for misunderstanding and for diminishing valid perspectives by people we disagree with and I don’t support that. … And some people take that further, that people who disagree are bad or aren’t valuable or whatever, stupid, and that that creates the us-them mindset that drives so much of the divisiveness in our culture. It’s hard to solve problems if we’re not talking to one another and respecting one another’s views.”

Derrick recommended that parents who want to have discussions like this with their children seek out books that provide a more nuanced perspective. She said reading books or having discussions with kids about the pros and cons on these topics would be a better way to address them and more properly socialize their children with the complex world they live in.

Despite disagreeing with the content of Lenney’s books, Lodge said she still recognizes his First Amendment rights.

“He has a right to write anything he wants and to publish anything he wants, but people have a responsibility to also make the right choices. … Parents can make the choices for what their children are reading,” Lodge said.

Derrick agrees. She said adults are responsible for socializing their children in a safe and healthy way while also letting them be curious about the things they are curious about.

She said children are easily misled, especially by visual appearances. Because of that, parents should support them by creating learning environments that take into account their cognitive development levels. Often that can mean screening content for them before they consume it.

“In these particular books, (kids) would have to sort through a bunch of information and figure out what’s useful and what’s not useful, what’s accurate and what’s not accurate, and that’s probably beyond the capacity of an elementary-aged person to do that,” Derrick said.

Derrick also said as a direct result of growing up, kids will learn their parents’ worldviews and that it is normal for parents to want to influence their children’s worldviews and value systems. But she said it is important to teach them these things in a way that will help them function in society.

“Parents can present information in ways that are accurate and give a broader perspective and that prepares their children for encountering a world that’s more complicated than what they might experience in their community or in their home they grew up in, which is important for success,” Derrick said. “Working in workplaces with diverse people, that kind of thing.”

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