When Amanda Hanig and Jordon Gillis started encouraging their neighbors in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to choose costumes that don’t involve guns this Halloween, they didn’t expect to court outrage. Motivated by the Las Vegas mass shooting, the couple saw their “Goodies Not Guns” campaign as a small way to counter the horror that daily life amply supplies. “We just feel like this is one thing we can do as parents to encourage our society to be less violent,” Gillis said.

To spread the word, they called local reporters. They also pitched the idea to their elected officials and area law enforcement.

Then, “Goodies Not Guns” drew the attention of the National Rifle Association.

An un-bylined blog post on NRAILA.org poured scorn on Hanig and Gillis, calling them “busybody parents” and “killjoys.” Since then, the Facebook page set up by Hanig and Gillis has been inundated with insults. Some hostile posters have not spared children opting to go trick-or-treating as unarmed characters.

The couple has tried to maintain their calm in the face of the deluge. “I’d like to thank them for the free exposure,” Gillis said of the NRA. “I think the fact that the NRA has come out against us means that we’ve registered.”

Researchers have documented the specific risks that guns pose for children. Data indicates that every year, firearms kill nearly 1,300 Americans 18 or younger. Many of the cases involved kids who accessed an adult’s gun and unintentionally shot themselves or another person. Observational experiments have shown that kids exposed to images of guns have a hard time resisting the real thing when a shiny Glock is left accessible – even when they have been instructed not to touch unsecured firearms.

Toy guns present a separate danger: they can confuse police officers who themselves may be quick on the trigger. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Cleveland boy shot and killed by police in 2014, was carrying a realistic-looking toy gun in a park when a bystander called the police on him. Boston, New York City, Los Angeles and other cities limit sale and possession of many toy guns.

The NRA often bristles at such laws, since they imply that even replica firearms can endanger people’s safety. The public ire it has directed toward Hanig and Gillis also fits with the group’s practice of pitting gun owners against the allegedly anti-gun denizens of progressive enclaves and establishment professions.  

For Gillis and his wife, it’s been unsettling to land on the receiving end of the NRA’s vitriol.

“We’re normal parents,” Gillis said. “We are not a well-funded media machine.”