Q. This may seem as a strange question, but it is important to my young sons. They learned of the tradition of playing with arch and arrows on Lag Baomer, but we could not find one set that is safe for them to play.
Can they use instead some soft dart guns that are safe and they already have? After all they work on the same principle of creating energy, does it matter if it is by pulling a cord or a retracting a spring?
A. On question 1706 we provided five reasons for the Lag Baomer’s minhag of children playing with bows and arrows, three of them apply basically only to the traditional bow and arrow, and not to other symbolic weapons, they are:
"Bnei Yisaschar, (Iyar: Ch. 4) mentions that the rainbow or keshes (bow) first appeared after the mabul (flood), and symbolizes Hashem’s promise to never again destroy the world by flood. Our Sages teach that the rainbow appears when the world is deserving penalty. However in his generation, the merit of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai protected the world and no rainbow appeared during his lifetime.(A similar teaching is mentioned on Kesubos 77b, in regards to Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi).
An alternative thought. Rashi explains that Yaakov Avinu refers to a bow as a metaphor for prayer (Bereshis 48:22). This is based on the fact that Esav sought favor with Yitzchak with bow and arrow and was blessed by him with weapons of war (Bereshit 27:3, 27:40), whereas Yaakov’s tool is his voice which he uses in prayer (27:22). There is also a play on words because “bekashti”¯, “with my bow”¯, can be read “bakashati”¯, my prayer.
Others explain that with a bow and arrow, the tension in an arched bow is exploited to propel a missile to great distances, the more one pulls on the cord, the farther the arrow will reach. Similarly, the name of the Yom Tov that Sefira leads to is Shavuos, presumably because the essence of the festivity lays in the preparation and hachonos for the Yom Tov done during the weeks of the Omer. As the pasuk reads, (Shemos 34: 22, D’varim 16: 10) “Veasisa Chag Hashevuos,”¯ the Yom Tov requires making and all that is done during the weeks of sefirah.the more you prepare the higher and better the Kabalas Hatorah will be."
We also pointed out that, Nitei Gavriel and other seforim quote of great Rebbes that would also hold a bow and arrow and even use it on Lag Baomer.
As mentioned there, Horav Shlomo Miller’s Shlit”¯a opinion is that each person should maintain the traditions and minhogim of his family and community.